Older people and employment Contents

1Introduction

An ageing workforce

1.The UK population is changing. As the number of people aged 50 and over is growing, the population aged below 50 is projected to reduce significantly. Government research predicts that by the mid 2030s half of all adults in the UK will be over 50 years of age.1 By 2025 there will be 300,000 fewer UK-born under 30s. Any reduction in inward migration following the UK’s exit from the EU will also mean fewer young workers. In contrast, the number of over 50s either working or available to work will grow by around one million by 2025.2 The UK economy is clearly becoming increasingly reliant on older workers. This has been recognised in the Government’s Industrial Strategy, which identifies meeting the needs of an ageing society as one of four ‘Grand Challenges’, and commits the Government to support industry to adapt to an ageing workforce.3 Andrew Griffiths MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, acknowledged that keeping the skills of older people in the workforce is important for the future viability of the UK economy.4

Chart 1: Projected change in UK population—2017 to 2022

Source: Fuller Working Lives evidence base, 2017, Chart 3.15

2.Nevertheless, not all older people who want to work have equal access to employment. In 2014 Business in the Community estimated that up to 1.4 million people aged 50 to 69 had involuntarily left the labour market in the previous eight years. There were over one million people aged 50 or over out of work who would have been willing to work if the right opportunity arose, and 26 per cent of people aged 50 to 64 were jobless but would have liked to work.6 The Government’s Fuller Working Lives strategy itself acknowledges that “There are almost one million individuals aged 50–64 who are not in employment but state they are willing to or would like to work.”7

3.Women face particular difficulties in accessing work in later life. Women still do the majority of caring for children and other family members, and are more likely to be in part-time work. While the employment rate for women aged 50 to 64 has been rising for many years, it remains significantly below that of men at 67.5 per cent8 compared to 76.2 per cent for men.9 The gender pay gap, which our 2016 report showed to be particularly pronounced for women over 40,10 means that even when in work older women generally earn less and look forward to smaller pensions.11

Chart 2: Gender pay gap by age, 2017

Source: ONS, Annual survey of hours and earnings 201712

Industries where older people work

4.As the chart below shows, education, health and social work, and public administration and defence are the sectors which are most reliant on older workers.

Chart 3: Employment by sector for individuals aged 50 to 64 years, by gender

Source: Fuller Working Lives evidence base, 2017, chart 4.913

5.The pattern of employment differs for older women and older men. In 2015–16, over 50 per cent of women aged 50 to 64 years old in employment worked in public administration, education and health. For men, there was a more equal spread of employment across sectors, including public administration, education and health (19 per cent), banking and finance (17 per cent) and manufacturing (16 per cent). Given this reliance on older workers, and particularly older women, it is concerning that evidence from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) shows the public administration, education and health sectors are all relatively bad at retaining such workers. Of equal concern is that these are also the most significant public-sector employers—organisations that should be leading the way in creating more equal and inclusive workplaces. We consider how this could be improved throughout this report.

Table 1: Industry dashboard showing which industries are not only highly reliant on older workers but also struggle to retain them

Source: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (OPE0032)

Government policy on older workers

6.The key Government policy on older workers is set out in its Fuller Working Lives strategy published in February 2017. The document was accompanied by an evidence base praised by witnesses to our inquiry as “an excellent addition to the sources of information available on this topic.”14 This strategy builds on the work undertaken by Baroness Ros Altmann’s review ‘A New Vision for Older Workers’, published in March 2015, and its recommendations for Government, business and individuals to ‘recruit, retain and retrain’ older workers.15 Fuller Working Lives is structured around these ‘3 Rs’, and a key feature is that it is “employer-led”.16

7.The rationale for Government action is twofold: on the one hand, retaining older workers, and their skills and experience, in the workforce is good for the economy and makes the state pension more affordable. On the other hand, working longer is viewed as benefiting the financial, health and social wellbeing of individuals.17

8.As part of the strategy, the Government has appointed Andy Briggs, CEO of Aviva UK Insurance, working with Business in the Community (BITC), as the Government Business Champion for Older Workers.18 The BITC Age at Work leadership team is chaired by Andy Briggs and includes representatives of Atos, Barclays PLC, the Centre for Ageing Better, the Department for Work and Pensions, EY, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, Home Instead, Mercer, the Royal Air Force, SAGA, the Co–operative Group and Walgreens Boots Alliance.19 The Business Champion is a voluntary, unpaid, non-political appointment. The Fuller Working Lives strategy places this role under the heading of ‘empowering change through others’ and defines it as:

to spearhead Government’s work and actively promote the benefits of older workers to employers across England—influencing them both strategically and in terms of practical advice.20

Our inquiry

9.Our predecessor Committee launched an inquiry into older people and employment in March 2017. The inquiry was closed before the deadline for written evidence because of the 2017 General Election. The Committee in the new Parliament decided to reopen the inquiry.

10.Our inquiry asked whether the Government’s Fuller Working Lives strategy is sufficient, whether the approach taken by the Government is working and what more needs to be done. We examined how questions of age diversity factor into the discussions on ‘quality’ of work being taken forward in the Taylor Review of modern working practices, and whether or not the Government’s approach addresses the different needs of women, carers, people with long-term health conditions and disabilities and black and minority ethnic (BME) groups among the older workforce.

11.We received written evidence from a range of organisations, including older people’s organisations, business organisations, recruitment and human resources specialists, academic experts and the Government. We also received submissions from private individuals speaking about their personal experiences and challenges in seeking and staying in employment in later life; we also held an outreach event at which we spoke to older jobseekers with a range of occupational backgrounds and family circumstances. We took oral evidence in five sessions, hearing from researchers, older people’s organisations, legal and advice experts, the recruitment industry, the business community and trade unions. We heard from Andy Briggs, the Government’s Business Champion for Older Workers and from the Ministers responsible for Government policy on older workers, the industrial strategy and relevant labour market policies. We are grateful for the assistance of our two specialist advisers for this inquiry, Mary Bright and Professor Sarah Vickerstaff.21

12.Our evidence shows that, for older workers, there are three key issues that need significant attention:

Central to each of these is a recognition that the traditional notion of a nine-to-five job within a linear career with distinct start and end points is no longer the norm.


1 Department for Work and Pensions, Fuller Working Lives: evidence base 2017, at page 13, accessed 26 June 2018

2 Mercer (OPE0049)

3 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Industrial Strategy: building a Britain fit for the future 27 November 2017, page 11, accessed 26 June 2018

4 Q218

5 Department for Work and Pensions, Fuller Working Lives: evidence base 2017, at page 13, accessed 26 June 2018

6 Business in the Community, The Mission Million, October 2014 at page 24, accessed 26 June 2018

7 Department for Work and Pensions, Fuller Working Lives, February 2017 at page 11, accessed 26 June 2018

8 Office for National Statistics, LFS: Employment rate: UK: Female: Aged 50–64: %: SA, 12 June 2018, accessed 26 June 2018

9 Office for National Statistics, LFS: Employment rate: UK: Male: Aged 50–64: %: SA, 12 June 2018, accessed 26 June 2018

10 Women and Equalities Committee, Second Report of Session 2015–16, Gender Pay Gap, HC 584, para 9

11 Fawcett Society (OPE0029); Centre for Ageing Better (OPE0039)

13 Department for Work and Pensions, Fuller Working Lives: evidence base 2017, page 25, accessed 26 June 2018

14 Age UK (OPE0036)

15 Department for Work and Pensions, A new vision for older workers: retain, retrain, recruit, March 2015, accessed 26 June 2018

16 Department for Work and Pensions, Fuller Working Lives, February 2017 accessed 26 June 2018

17 Department for Work and Pensions, Fuller Working Lives, February 2017 at page 12, accessed 26 June 2018

20 Department for Work and Pensions, Fuller Working Lives, February 2017, page 35, accessed 26 June 2018

21 Mary Bright declared the following interests: Employed by Aviva plc. Professor Sarah Vickerstaff declared the following interests: A member of the Women’s Equality Party (expired January 2018).




Published: 17 July 2018