It’s semi-official – London may have its first “Older Workers Champion.” Sadiq Kahn boldly claimed recently he’ll still be working as Mayor in 22 years’ time at least – at the good age of 74.
But before we get the age friendly bunting out, sadly many older London workers in London who also harbour this wish are experiencing difficulties in the labour market and need more support.
Media reports show that London’s job market is returning to normal with job vacancies difficult to fill. Certainly, younger workers who bore the brunt of unemployment during the pandemic have bounced back. It is now older workers, not just in London, experiencing the effects of scarring in the job market with the very real risk they will be left behind in labour market recovery. In all the grand economic recovery plans for London the stark lacuna has been the plight of older workers and the big question is why they aren’t getting more policy attention. It illustrates the lack of attention to age friendliness in London.
According to ONS 57,000 older Londoners aged 50-64 were unemployed at the end of 2021 an increase of 18,000 from the previous year. The unemployment rate for these workers at 5 per cent is higher than the rest of the UK. Less than a fifth (18%) of those aged 50 to 70 years who left or lost their job since pandemic returned to work.
But alarmingly it’s also the “great retirement” causing problems – the rise in “economic inactivity” of over 50s particularly men who have simply exited the labour market during and since the pandemic. National data shows nearly a rise of over 228,000 in the 50-65s age group becoming economically inactive. But it’s not the traditional image of the affluent retiree. Research shows it’s the less well off with those earning £18,000 to £25,000 per year, who rent and work in lower paid industries experiencing the highest rise in inactivity.
Those who’ve left jobs cite mixed reasons for leaving – ageism, health, mental wellbeing, but worryingly many are resigned to this position. Many will think they won’t get their job back in a declining industry and don’t see it worth continuing to work. Only a third of over 60s would look at returning to work. In London 77 per cent of over 60s had not gone back to paid work since losing or exiting their job which is a great loss of expertise and talent . And those who enter “retirement” prematurely face great uncertainty in future income and savings with prospects of “pensioner poverty” looming.
Wise Age a leading age and employment charity specialising in employment support for over 50s in London is arguing for a London wide strategy for older workers to be championed and led by the Mayor of London (see https://wiseage.org.uk/campaign/why-we-need-a-strategy-for-older-workers-in-london-now/).
Our strategy calls for more bespoke support and training for older workers across London. The big challenge of becoming unemployed at 50 is getting back into the job market and you’re less likely to get a job than unemployed younger workers. Those in low paid and manual jobs face being forced out and the lack of skills and training of those workers is striking. The sad evidence is that as you age in the work place you receive less training.
But we also need a raft of policies to tackle the drivers of the current problems, most notably ageism in workplaces and the lack of age friendly practises by many employers.
Older workers experience ageism in recruitment with well over a third report feeling disadvantaged in applying for jobs. Age friendly employers devise flexible working opportunities, promote career development, provide support with health conditions, but focuses on a culture to allow workers of all ages to work together. So, we’re calling on a new Mayoral Challenge on ageism in employment supported by a London toolkit for age friendly employers. Other enlightened cities such as Manchester are providing support for their older workers and pushing for age friendly workplaces (GM Age friendly employer handbook (greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk) . Wales has an older workers strategy Age at Work Wales (bitcni.org.uk). We urgently need some policy levelling up here to help London here which lags in the good practise league.
The final plank of supporting London’s older workers is the the Mayor championing a campaign to show the benefits of older workers to London’s economy both economically and the value of intergenerational workplaces. The loss of older workers comes at a time when London’s economy urgently needs their expertise and productivity.
Tim Whitaker is a consultant working on age and employment issues and is a Trustee of Wise Age.