older worker blog
Older workers face uncertain job prospects in the economic fallout from the pandemic
Emily Andrews, Senior Evidence Manager
The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on the economy and the labour market, and we are yet to see the full effect. Last week it was reported that unemployment in the UK has reached the highest level for more than four years, with 1.7 million people now out of work (Note 1). While job losses have been most heavily concentrated among younger workers, who are more likely to work in the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic such as retail and hospitality, the sharpest falls in employment among over-18s in the last quarter was among those aged 50-64s – with more than 340,000 people in this age group now unemployed (Note 2) – an increase of 175,000 since March last year.
Evidence shows that those in this age group who lose their jobs are at greater risk of becoming long-term unemployed – recent data suggests that people aged over 50 who lose their jobs are twice as likely as other age groups to be unemployed for at least two years (Note 3). This means older workers may be forced into an early retirement they may not want or are unable to afford. Unemployment at this age can have a significant financial impact with people unable to continue making contributions to their pensions, becoming reliant on savings and even having to draw down pensions early.
The recent ‘Pulse’ survey from No Desire to Retire found that older job-seekers and workers are strongly disillusioned by their near-term employment prospects with 85% of respondents saying they felt neutral or negative, of which 35% felt much more negative (Note 4). Respondents cited the pandemic as the main cause with lack of support from the government a key issue. The government has rightly recognised the challenges faced by younger workers, by creating funded job placements for 16 to 24s through the Kickstart scheme. But we are yet to see any specific measures to tackle the quite different challenges faced by the 50+ age group. Age bias in recruitment is also a concern with many worried younger candidates would be favoured as they have ‘40 years to go before they retire, [rather] than someone who as only 2 years left’.
The Centre for Ageing Better’s Good Recruitment for Older Workers (GROW) project will shed some further light on the current and future recruitment landscape for older workers and examine the barriers older people face when trying to find employment, with ageism being viewed as a major factor. Initial findings shared in the ‘Shut Out’ report (Note 5) show that many employers do not consider age when looking to improve diversity and inclusion in recruitment and the type of language used in job advertisements can deter older workers from applying.
Before the pandemic there were around 824,000 people age 50-64 in the UK who were not working but would like to be and this number will continue to rise as the economic impact on the pandemic continues to be felt. In the longer-term companies need to look at their recruitment processes and make them more age-friendly but the immediate concern is helping people back into work now and the government must act. We need to see tailored employment support for over-50s in the months ahead or we risk seeing many fall out of work for good.