Millions of unemployed over 50s struggle more than young people for jobs

New data published today shows that the over 50 age group experience an ‘unemployment trap’ – meaning they are more likely to be out of work than younger age groups, and once unemployed they struggle more than younger jobseekers to get back into employment. Currently almost a third of 50-64 year olds in the UK are not in work – some 3.3 million people. Within this, 29 percent are recorded as ‘economically inactive’ – not engaged in the labour market in any way – which is more than twice the rate of those aged 35-49 (13 percent). It is estimated that around one million of the over 50s who are out of work left employment involuntarily due to issues such as ill health, caring responsibilities or redundancy. Some 38 percent of unemployed over 50s have been out of work for over a year, compared to 19 percent of 18-24 year olds and the Centre for Ageing Better claims that employment support is failing this age group.

Only 16 percent of over 50s referred to the Government’s Work Programme are successfully supported into a job – the worst results of any group, irrespective of gender, ethnicity or disability.

The Centre for Ageing Better warns that the impending rise of the State Pension age means that, without urgent action, the problem will get dramatically worse. The millions of over 50s already out of work will have to wait longer until they can receive their State Pension – for those aged 56 or below, at least two years longer – at a time when they are unable to secure an income for themselves.

Jemma Mouland, Senior Programme Manager at the Centre for Ageing Better, said: “Too many older workers are currently being pushed out of the workforce because of poor health, caring responsibilities, or redundancy. Once they have lost their job, 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.

“Our research finds that changes are needed at every level. 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.”

Today’s report is based on work with people aged over 50 in Greater Manchester and draws on six months research by the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) – in partnership with the Learning & Work Institute – in five areas of the city region. In Greater Manchester almost one in three people aged 50 and over are out of work – an employment rate consistently below the national average (regional breakdown of employment rates below). Nearly half of people aged 50-64 in the city region (46 percent) are either out of work or in low paid work.

The report shows that people aged over 50 face a complex range of challenges in returning to work. These include poor health and long-term conditions, caring responsibilities, a lack of suitable and accessible employment opportunities and perceived age bias, such as recruitment processes favouring younger candidates, or being passed over for training opportunities. They were also found to experience internalised ageism, where they felt their age meant some job opportunities were out of reach, or their lack of success in getting a job after a long period meant they gave up trying – in some cases even 15 years before they were due to receive their State Pension.

It highlights that Government, local authorities and employers need to do more to address the many barriers people aged over 50 face in returning to work. This means coordinated efforts by employment support and training providers, health services, the benefits system, local government and employers to ensure that individuals are able to get the full range of support they need in a timely way. Support must be tailored to an individual’s own circumstances and respond to the particular barriers that they experience in their local area, which could range from poor transport links to a lack of suitable jobs available.

The research highlights three key areas where progress can be made:

  • National government: increased flexibility in the benefits system and rethinking services to reflect the complex challenges that over 50s face in returning to work
  • Local authorities: integrating employment, skills and health support offered to older job seekers from statutory and community services and ensuring it is tailored to their personal circumstances
  • Employers: offering flexible job opportunities and taking a positive approach to recruiting older workers.
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