Older people and employment Contents

3Flexible and adaptable workplaces

48.While we heard that the most significant barriers to recruitment of older workers were age bias and discrimination, the need for flexible and adaptable workplaces was a close second. Health conditions and caring responsibilities are two of the biggest factors that result in people leaving the labour market early, or that prevent them from returning. Employers’ practices and government policy can mitigate these factors by making workplaces more ‘age-friendly’.80

49.Sitting behind such concerns are questions about the quality of work. Older workers’ opportunities and choices will depend on their level of education and in which segment of the labour market they are located. Professor Simonetta Manfredi and Professor Lucy Vickers told us that those in higher-paid professions are more likely to have a range of options open to them in later working life, such as phased retirement, consultancy or part-time work. On the other hand, those in low-paid, low-skilled but physically demanding jobs may not be able to continue to do these types of work in older age, and yet they are the group more likely to need to continue to work in later life.81 This was not always due to flexibility—Professor Carol Atkinson told us that flexibility was often more available in lower paid professions.82 Rather, such workers are more likely to leave the workplace because of health reasons or to stay longer in work that is “not particularly good for their health and wellbeing”.83 Patrick Thompson told us that:

There is a big split between people working for longer because they need to and other people who do it because it is an extra bit of income, it is a fulfilment and they enjoy the work that they do.84

As Yvonne Sonsino put it: “there are plenty of people who say, ‘I have done my time. I hate my job. I have slogged at it for so long and I just want a rest’.”85 This issue has, to some extent, been recognised in discussions about extending the State Pension Age. John Cridland, who led the independent review of the pension age, advised that the Government will need to be “mindful” of support for those carers and disabled people who have permanently left the labour market for good reason.86

50.Questions of what Government should do when someone is not able to continue in work, or when work itself becomes detrimental to health and wellbeing, are outside the scope of this inquiry. However, we have heard much evidence of how more flexible and adaptable workplaces can, and do, remove barriers that would otherwise prevent many people who could continue to work into later life from doing so.

Flexible working

51.Since 2014, all employees who have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks have had the legal right to request flexible working. The Government states that this request must be dealt with by employers in a “reasonable manner”.87 This right has been gradually extended from the original policy, introduced in 2003, when it was only for parents of children under the age of six and disabled children up to the age of 17.

52.In its evidence to this inquiry, the Government argued that flexible working arrangements are key to enabling older workers with health conditions and caring responsibilities to better balance these with working. It cited research showing that 47 per cent of employees interviewed indicated that flexible working arrangements would encourage them to work longer before retirement.88 Our witnesses agreed that flexibility would enable older workers to undertake caring responsibilities, manage a health condition, or reduce their working hours in the run-up to retirement.89 Arthritis UK explained that:

A change in duties, flexible arrangements which allow people to work in comfortable settings and pace activity, the ability to take emergency leave, special equipment, help with transport or improved workplace access are some of the factors that can help support people with musculoskeletal conditions to be in work.90

53.Andrew Griffiths MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy told us that the extension of the right to request flexible working “from just mums to the whole workforce” had made a big difference in the acceptability of flexible working.91 Yvonne Sonsino and Andy Briggs both spoke about the importance of offering flexible working to their ability to recruit and retain staff. Ruby Peacock, speaking for the Federation of Small Businesses, told us that views on flexible working were changing, and that younger business owners in particular were more open to thinking about job design and flexibility when taking on staff as “flexibility is more important for them, and it is something they also want to offer their staff.”92 Tom Hadley of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) told us that ‘Is this job available for flexible working?’ was one of the most searched things on Indeed—a major UK jobs board—and yet only 9 per cent of jobs made it clear that flexible working was an option.93

54.Ben Willmott, speaking for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, also told us that flexible working—particularly things like flexitime, job share, annualised hours and home working, rather than part-time working—was still difficult to access. He told us that:

Although 99 per cent of employers say that they provide flexible working opportunities for people, the uptake of flexible working has broadly plateaued over the last 15 years.94

Andy Briggs acknowledged that a lot of businesses are stuck in the mindset that everyone works “Monday to Friday, nine to five, or whatever it might be in their particular line of business; that is what you do.”95 Some were also worried that talking about age in the workplace—whether as part of retirement planning or identifying changes to workplace practices—could itself be discrimination.96

55.Dr Beach from the International Longevity Centre UK cited research with business in different industries showing that despite the right to request flexible working, and some informal policies on flexibility there was often no evidence that flexible working was being discussed or considered97 and some line managers were not open to requests for flexible working.98 Our recent report into Fathers and the workplace also found that:

there is still a powerful ‘flexibility stigma’: the stigma workers face when working flexibly and so deviating from the model of the ‘ideal worker’ who works perpetually and without outside obligations. Furthermore, men may experience an additional ‘femininity stigma’ because flexible working deviates from the image of a masculine worker being a provider rather than a carer.99

56.The evidence to this inquiry shows that older workers also find it difficult to secure flexible working. Ben Willmott of the CIPD confirmed that “the biggest obstacles are around culture and the negative attitudes of leaders and line managers to flexible working.”100 Research by Professor Sarah Vickerstaff on behalf of the Uncertain Futures Research Consortium found that options for flexible working were limited outside administrative and office jobs: even when human resources departments sought to increase such opportunities they could face resistance from line managers.101 Catherine Sermon told us that many jobs at the lower end of the pay scale are already flexible; the challenge was to “make flexible jobs good and good jobs flexible”.102 Despite evidence that those in the higher paid professions tended to have more options in how they structure their working lives,103 Fawcett Society argued that there was a lack of quality, well-paid, senior posts offered for flexible or part-time working—particularly affecting women.104

57.Age UK and the Fawcett Society recommended that flexible working be available by default, so that it becomes an ‘easy to access norm’,105 as did our reports on the Gender pay gap and Fathers in the workplace.106 In October 2017 the Prime Minister called for companies to make flexible working “a reality for all employees” by advertising all jobs as flexible from day one, unless there are solid business reasons not to.107 Andy Briggs, the Government’s Business Champion for Older Workers, argued that legislation to achieve this is now necessary, as without flexibility from day one “people will not go for those jobs and those roles.”108 Tom Hadley, speaking on behalf of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, echoed this:

It is not just flexible working; we have said that it is also flexible hiring. […] One reason that people do not go for jobs is they think, ‘I do not want to move, because I have a decent flexible working arrangement in my current business.’ It is a major disincentive for people to go and look for a different job.109

58.Ruby Peacock of the Federation of Small Businesses, however, argued against a statutory approach, instead making the case for more help for small employers:

It can be quite difficult, if you have a job that has been done the same way for years, to think at the start about how that might be delivered flexibly and what you can and cannot accommodate. Providing some of that support is probably the best way to drive that day-one flexibility.110

59.Our reports on the Gender pay gap and Fathers in the workplace recommended that all jobs should be available to work flexibly, unless an employer can demonstrate an immediate and continuing business case against doing so.111 In its response to our report on working fathers, the Government rejected this recommendation. Despite noting that there is considerable consensus on the benefits of more flexible working practices, the Government stated it would continue to pursue a voluntary approach, at least until the evaluation of the right to request flexible working is complete—currently expected to be in 2019.112

60.This Committee and its predecessor have recommended that all jobs should be available on flexible terms unless an employer can demonstrate an immediate and continuing business case against doing so. Such an approach is central to enabling parents, carers and older workers to participate in the labour market on an equal basis. Given the mounting evidence collected by this Committee in the course of three inquiries the Government has to act and act now.

61.In response to gender pay gap figures published in October 2017, the Prime Minister called for companies to make flexible working a reality for all employees by advertising all jobs as flexible from day one, unless there are solid business reasons not to. The review of this policy is some time away from being completed. We recommend that the Government seek to legislate now to ensure that all new jobs are advertised as flexible from day one, unless the employer can demonstrate an immediate and continuing business case against doing so.

62.We recommend that the Civil Service and public services immediately introduce a right to flexible working from day one for both new and existing roles, except where an immediate and continuing business case against doing so can be demonstrated.

Carer’s leave

63.As the evidence base for Fuller Working Lives acknowledges, an ageing population and workforce mean that a greater proportion of the working age population are likely to provide informal care in future years.113 In 2011 one in nine employees were carers; Carers UK estimates that there will be a 40 per cent increase in the number of carers needed by 2037, to a total of nine million.114 While the likelihood of becoming a carer increases with age for both women and men, informal caring responsibilities fall most heavily on women over 50 years old. As the table below shows, it is only once we reach our 70s that men become marginally more likely to be providing informal care. 80 per cent of grandparents also provide unpaid childcare, with 14 per cent having cut their working hours or taken leave to look after grandchildren.115

Chart 4: Proportion of the adult population providing informal care, by age and gender, 2016/17, United Kingdom

Source: Family Resources Survey 2016/17, page 9116

64.The impact of caring on employment is well known. As the Fawcett Society pointed out, women are more likely to have given up work and be ‘economically inactive’ in order to provide unpaid care—in part due to the lack of part-time and flexible working options discussed above.117 Polling by Carers UK has shown that over two million people have given up work at some point to care for loved ones and three million have reduced their working hours. Analysis by Age UK and Carers UK has also found that at present men and women over the age of 50 who provide 10 hours or more of care per week are more likely to leave paid employment than to seek to reduce their hours.118

65.The solution advocated by many witnesses is to introduce a statutory right to paid care leave for at least five days each year. Carers UK argued that this would provide the flexibility and ad hoc support that would make combining care and work responsibilities more manageable, would improve mental and physical health for carers, and would be cost effective for businesses.119 A similar case is made by the Centre for Ageing Better, who recommended that the Government consider legislating for flexible options for short periods of paid carer’s leave and longer periods of unpaid leave. Andy Briggs, the Government’s Business Champion for Older Workers, supported calls for statutory carer’s leave:

The analogy I often draw to this is if a business was to say to a pregnant woman, ‘You can have the day off to have the baby, as long as you are in the day before and the day after’, we would be pretty horrified. However, an awful lot of businesses are effectively saying that to people that have equally important caring responsibilities for dependant human beings, albeit they are older rather than younger.

66.Andy Briggs argued that carer’s leave should be seen as a benefit and not a cost: by retaining employees with caring responsibilities he could also retain their skills and capabilities and save on recruitment and training costs associated with new staff.120 Andrew Griffiths, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in BEIS, agreed, telling us that

It may well be that five days of carer’s leave would be hugely beneficial to somebody who has caring responsibilities for a parent because they need to put them in residential nursing care, for instance. […]

On the other side of the coin, it may be people with caring responsibilities who need the ability to step out of the workplace for a longer period of time in order to deal with a particular caring need, with the intention that they would like to, after that long period of time, return to the workplace and not be disadvantaged by that.121

67.The Minister told us that the Government had begun work on developing a carer’s action plan: “a specific set of proposals in order to address the need not just for carer’s leave but more widely to support carers.”122 This was published by the Department of Health and Social Care on 5 June 2018. The plan set out a two-year programme of “targeted work” to support unpaid carers, focusing on “practical actions” to support carers and to highlight the work either already undertaken or planned by the Government. It is structured around five themes, one of which is employment and financial wellbeing, and includes several activities to support working carers and to encourage employers to improve their working practices.123

68.The Minister told us that alongside the action plan the Government was working to develop a policy on carer’s leave.124 Mark Holmes argued that the costs and benefits of carer’s leave “very much [depend] on how it is approached and what kind of a model is adopted.” He nevertheless also told us that:

There is active discussion across Government about those alternative options, considering questions like what employers already provide and […] the different needs of different types of carers.125

69.The Carer’s Action Plan confirms this, stating that BEIS is “considering the question” of dedicated employment rights for carers with “the support of analysts so that any emerging carer’s leave proposal is most effective.”126 An official-level working group to examine these questions has been set up involving the Department of Health and Social Care, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and HM Treasury.127

70.We believe that the case for a modest amount of paid leave for working carers is compelling. Equally, the case for a right to take unpaid leave—rather than falling out of the workforce with the associated difficulties of re-joining it—is overwhelming. This exists for parents: unpaid parental leave gives employees who have been employed by their company for one year an entitlement to a maximum of four weeks’ unpaid leave per child per year, during which time employment rights are protected. We can see no reason why such provision should not extend to those providing unpaid care to adults.

71.We recommend that the Government put unpaid leave for working carers on a par with that for parents, and introduce a statutory right to four weeks of unpaid carer’s leave per year. The effectiveness of unpaid carer’s leave should be monitored by collecting data on take-up and the reasons for take-up.

72.We recommend that the Government introduce an additional five days of paid carer’s leave, available to all working carers regardless of employment type.

Enabling employers to develop more flexible and adaptable workplaces

73.Our evidence suggested that flexibility and adapting to the needs of employees, particularly in later life, are central if employers wish to become more age diverse. Yvonne Sonsino, when asked about managing an older workforce, told us that the place to start was by asking “What adjustments do we need to make to the workplace?”.128 She gave us the example of BMW, who:

made simple adjustments to the production line, with softer floors, more seating and zero-gravity tools, and they improved production by seven per cent, because it was predominantly an older-worker group who were very experienced engineers who they could not replace.129

74.Many older workers could also benefit from constructive discussions with their employers about retirement planning. such as using flexible or part-time working to gradually move towards retirement. However, an unintended consequence of the abolition of the Default Retirement Age, when combined with the ban on age discrimination, is that some employers are now afraid to hold conversations about this. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the Centre for Ageing Better and Age UK all told us that many employers were concerned that talking about adjustments in the run-up to retirement could be construed as age discrimination, but that such discussions are in reality an important part of supporting older workers.130

75.Patrick Thomson argued that employers should be looking at people across the board, irrespective of their age, and treating each individual worker as an individual, making adjustments as required for them.131 Central to making this happen was building trust between employers and employees. Discussing adjustments for health conditions, Ben Willmott of the CIPD told us that:

Unless you trust your line manager you will not disclose something that is potentially sensitive or that you think might be perceived in a certain way and could have an impact on how you are perceived at work.132

76.One key support to employers in having such conversations is access to occupational health services. According to the CIPD, only around 40 per cent of employers provide access to occupational health services.133 While older workers tend to have fewer instances of sick leave than younger people, when they are off work it tends to be for longer periods.134 Ben Willmott from the CIPD gave the example of BT and the Royal Mail who, he told us, would refer people with conditions that are likely to be recurrent or long term to occupational health services from day one:

They are doing it because it is the right thing to do, but they are also doing it because they get a better return on their rehabilitation and occupational health services, because that person will come back to work longer.135

77.There is some support available for those who are not able to provide their own occupational health services to employees. The Government’s ‘Fit for Work’ service was launched in 2014 to provide support for people in the early stage of sickness absence, particularly for employees working in small and medium sized enterprises.136 However, this has been discontinued, and all that remains is a website-based advice service.137 Ben Willmott was disappointed with this, as he understood that when employers had accessed the support service it was “quite positive”. He felt that the problem was not a lack of need, but low awareness as it had not been left in place long enough “to pervade, in particular, small firms’ consciousness and awareness.”138

78.We recommend that the Government review the services provided by the Fit for Work scheme to ensure that it is meeting the needs of small and medium employers who may not otherwise have access to professional occupational health services.

79.A key part of the work being done by the Government’s Business Champion for Older Workers is to help employers develop better practices. While a lot of good work is being done, Andy Briggs himself recognised that reaching beyond the larger employers who have “HR departments and inclusion and diversity departments and so on and so forth” was a challenge.139 Julie Dennis of Acas told us that the employers with the best practice tend to be the larger ones, with substantial human resources departments. Smaller businesses, she told us, tended to be the ones calling for help and who needed encouragement “not to just assume that because a person has become a certain age they need to be exited out of the organisation.”140 Professor Carol Atkinson told us that small firms and their employees can and do engage in make adaptations, but suggested that these were ad hoc for valued individuals rather than policy changes.141

80.As mentioned above, a key feature of the Government’s Fuller Working Lives strategy is that it is employer led. While this has its advantages—and much good work is being done by those employers that have engaged with the agenda set out in the strategy—it has been criticised for not having reached enough businesses, particularly small and medium employers. Professor Atkinson told us that the kind of case studies used in Fuller Working Lives tend to assume “a large-firm model with human resource expertise and sophisticated HR practices.”142

81.Age UK commended the Department for Work and Pensions on its outreach work to business, but pointed out that there are approximately 1.3 million employers in the UK and “it is simply not possible to reach anything more than a tiny minority by this means.”143 Ruby Peacock, speaking for the Federation of Small Businesses, suggested that the Government could ask some of the leading larger businesses help reach smaller companies within their supply chain.144

82.The work of the Government Business Champion, and the employer-led approach, provide a real opportunity to harness the expertise of those, often large, employers that have had opportunities to think creatively about how to create age-friendly workplaces. This includes, but is not limited to, building the confidence of employers to have potentially sensitive conversations about flexible working, caring responsibilities and retirement planning.

83.We recommend that the Government work with Andy Briggs, the Business Champion for Older Workers, and Business in the Community to establish and promote a mentoring scheme for employers, supporting those who may otherwise lack the expertise or capacity to create age-friendly workplaces. This should prioritise support for small and medium employers, using the good practice and resources of larger employers, and facilitate access to Government support.

84.This is not to say that only small employers struggle. The public sector should be leading the way but data shows that public administration, education and health, the largest employers of those aged over 50, struggle to retain older workers.145 While the Government told us that it will lead by example by “getting the ‘public sector house’ in order”, it had little to say on how it would do this beyond all departments having signed up to Disability Confident, a scheme run by the Department for Work and Pensions to help employers improve how they attract, recruit and retain disabled workers.146 More needs to be done by the Government to create age-friendly workplaces for vital workers such as teachers, classroom assistants, childminders, nurses, doctors and those in hospitals and the care sector.

85.We recommend that the Government require departments to incorporate a set of age-friendly employment standards, including rights to flexible working from day one, carer’s leave and a mid-life career review, into all new policies and contracts affecting the terms and conditions of employment for public sector workers.


80 Centre for Ageing Better (OPE0039)

81 Professor Manfredi and Professor Vickers (OPE0020)

82 Professor Carol Atkinson (OPE0046)

83 Q3 (Patrick Thomson, Centre for Ageing Better)

84 Q3

85 Q3

86 Department for Work and Pensions, Independent Review of the State Pension age: Smoothing the transition, March 2017, page 67, accessed 26 June 2018

87 https://www.gov.uk/flexible-working, accessed 26 June 2018

88 HM Government (OPE0034)

89 Later Life Ambitions (OPE0045); Carers UK (OPE0040); Centre for Ageing Better (OPE0039); Zurich Insurance PLC (OPE0033); Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (OPE0032)

90 Arthritis Research UK (OPE0041)

91 Q208

92 Q133

93 Q108

94 Q133

95 Q195

96 Centre for Ageing Better (OPE0039); Age UK (OPE0036)

97 Q17

98 Q22

99 Women and Equalities Committee, First Report of the Session 2017–19 Fathers and the workplace, HC 358, para 91

100 Q149

101 Professor Sarah Vickerstaff (OPE0023)

102 Q195

103 Professor Manfredi and Professor Vickers (OPE0020)

104 Fawcett Society (OPE0029)

105 Fawcett Society (OPE0029); Age UK (OPE0036)

106 Women and Equalities Committee, First Report of the Session 2017–19 Fathers and the workplace, HC 358; para 98; Women and Equalities Committee, Second Report of Session 2015–16, Gender Pay Gap, HC 584, para 134

107 Prime Minister’s Office, 10 Downing Street, Prime Minister announces new drive to end the gender pay gap, 28 October 2017, accessed 27 June 2018

108 Q200

109 Q124

110 Q152

111 Women and Equalities Committee, First Report of the Session 2017–19 Fathers and the workplace, HC 358, para 98; Women and Equalities Committee, Second Report of Session 2015–16, Gender Pay Gap, HC 584, para 134

112 Women and Equalities Committee, Third Special Report of Session 2017–19, Fathers and the workplace: Government Response to the Committee’s First Report of Session, 2017–19, HC 1076, page 7

113 Department for Work and Pensions, Fuller Working Lives: evidence base 2017, page 7, accessed 26 June 2018. In this report we understand ‘’carer’ to include anyone providing unpaid care for another person who has a long-term health condition or disability. This may or may not be a family member.

114 Carers UK (OPE0040)

115 Fawcett Society (OPE0029), citing research by Grandparents Plus

116 Department for Work and Pensions, Family Resources Survey 2016/17, March 2018, at page 9

117 Fawcett Society (OPE0029)

118 Carers UK (OPE0040)

119 Carers UK (OPE0040)

120 Q197

121 Q254

122 Q254

123 Department of Health and Social Care, Carers Action Plan 2018–20: Supporting Carers Today, June 2018, accessed 26 June 2018

124 Q254

125 Q254

126 Department of Health and Social Care, Carers Action Plan 2018–20: Supporting Carers Today, June 2018, page 17, accessed 26 June 2018

127 Department of Health and Social Care, Carers Action Plan 2018–20: Supporting Carers Today, June 2018, page 17, accessed 26 June 2018

128 Q17

129 Q17

130 Age UK (OPE0036); Centre for Ageing Better (OPE0039); Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (OPE0032)

131 Q17

132 Q144

133 Q132

134 Q143

135 Q143

138 Q132

139 Q173

140 Q58

141 Professor Carol Atkinson (OPE0046)

142 Professor Carol Atkinson (OPE0046)

143 Age UK (OPE0036)

144 Q134

145 See Chapter 1

146 HM Government (OPE0034)




Published: 17 July 2018