February 29, 2016
The UK government should find ways to encourage more than one million more over-50 into work by the end of this parliament, claims the Resolution Foundation think tank. The call comes ahead of a final report this week following a nine-month investigation into the issue full employment. The Chancellor announced a commitment to full employment in last year’s Summer Budget, with the government committing to report annually on progress towards this objective. The Foundation says that support for the over 50s, particularly to keep them from leaving the labour force, should be at the heart of the government’s strategy. Older people have contributed the fastest jobs growth of any age group over the last decade, leaving employment rates for workers aged 50-64 and 65+ are at record highs. The Foundation says that previous progress shows this group can and should be at the centre of plans for realising full employment.
The report identifies the potential to raise employment among 50-64 year olds by around 920,000 over the parliament, and for employment among 65-69 year olds to increase by 240,000. Its estimates are based on bringing employment in under-performing areas of the UK close to the levels seen in high performing areas such as the South East and East of England. Merseyside (58 per cent), Wales, Northern Ireland and inner London (all 63 per cent) currently have the lowest employment rates for 50-64 year olds.
The Foundation argues that traditional focuses on those out of work need to be updated for the 21st Century. Helping older people to remain in work is the most effective way to raise employment among older workers. It says that too many workers are forced to leave the labour market prematurely when they develop ill-health or take on new caring responsibilities, and struggle to return to work.
The report argues that it is possible to reduce these ‘exit rates’. It highlights the role extended maternity rights and more generous financial support in the form of maternity pay and childcare costs have played in keeping mothers attached to the labour market, and says that this model of success can be repeated for older workers and other groups too.
To do this the report calls for the extension of the right to return to a job following a period of ill health beyond the six months that Statutory Sick Pay is paid, and for similar rights to be extended to those who need to take time out for caring responsibilities. This would help keep employers in touch with their staff, give time to discuss how jobs can be adapted, and reduce the risk of people leaving the labour market altogether.
The Foundation also wants to see a new focus on high quality part-time work to keep older workers in the labour force. It says that they should not have to retire prematurely or take on much lower-skilled work when their circumstances change.
The final report will set out a range of recommendations to support different groups into employment, including those with a disability or ill-health, black and ethnic minority people and the low-skilled.
Laura Gardiner, Senior Policy Analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Rising employment among older workers has been one of Britain’s biggest labour market successes of recent years. This jobs phenomenon has been driven by a number of factors, including the rising State Pension Age, abolition of the default retirement age and better flexible working practices. But we can do far more to boost employment among older workers, in particular by helping them to stay in work when they take on caring responsibilities or have to adjust to ill-health. Many employers already see the benefits of holding on to these experienced members of staff but this attitude needs to spread throughout the labour market. Government policy interventions, such as an extension of rights to return to work, can help foster this change in attitudes towards older workers.Providing such support could help over a million older workers into jobs, and set the government on course to meet its ambitious full employment target.”