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Over-50s experience chronic worklessness

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Around 3.3 million people between the ages of 50 and 64 are not in work

Employers and government need to “radical[ly] rethink” how to tackle chronic worklessness among the over 50s, according to a report from the Centre for Ageing Better.

The research estimates that 3.3 million people between the ages of 50 and 64 are not in work, with 29% recorded as ‘economically inactive,’ meaning they are not engaged in the labour market in any way. This is more than twice the rate of those aged 35-49 (13%).

Once out of work, people aged over 50 were found to struggle to get back into the labour market more than younger age groups. Some 38% of unemployed over 50s have been out of work for over a year, compared to 19% of 18- 24-year-olds.

Jemma Mouland, senior programme manager at the Centre for Ageing Better, said employers need to look at how older workers are treated. “Our research finds that changes are needed at every level,” she said. “It is not a problem that national government or employment and skills services alone can fix. Poor health and caring responsibilities are some of the most common barriers experienced by older workers, so it is important that health and benefits systems are more joined up and focused on helping those over 50 stay in work, or get back into employment.

"Employers too need to value their older workers more, offer them greater support and flexibility and stamp out ageist employment practices.”

She warned of the impact losing a job can have on an older person. “Too many older workers are currently being pushed out of the workforce because of poor health, caring responsibilities, or redundancy,” she said. “Once they have lost their jobs, over 50s struggle much more than any other age group to get back to work, which is costly personally and financially for them, with impacts lasting well into later life. Given that we are all working for longer and our workforce is ageing, we need urgent action to break this vicious circle.”

Graham Vidler, director of external affairs at the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association (PLSA,) said that the report makes for “alarming reading.”

“With people spending longer in education and living longer, we simply cannot afford to compress working lives like this,” he said. “It will be hard, if not impossible, for them to save for a longer retirement – bearing in mind that those in their 50s now may live well into their 90s.”