Older people and employment Contents

5Government policy

104.As explained in Chapter 1, the key Government policy on older workers is Fuller Working Lives, published in February 2017. It is structured around the ‘3 Rs’ of ‘recruit, retain and re-skill’, and a key feature is that it is “employer-led”—meaning that most of the actions are to be driven forward by employers themselves rather than by Government or through regulation. This approach is supported by witnesses, but with caveats.178 The Centre for Ageing Better highlighted that, while an employer-led approach had real advantages it was highly unlikely to tackle age discrimination, which we have seen in Chapter 2 is a significant problem. They also argued that it will not address job quality, which we have seen in Chapter 3 is an important underlying factor in the discussion on enabling people to work for longer:

Unless we promote good quality work that supports good health, wellbeing and control for older workers, longer working lives will not lead to better outcomes in later life, and we do not expect to achieve ambitious increases in employment rates among those aged 50 and over.179

105.Age UK and the CIPD also see a direct link to Government policy on ‘good work’ and both were concerned that there has been insufficient focus on support for small firms—a concern we saw in Chapter 3. They argued that:

If you go to any local enterprise partnership, […] or go to a growth hub, and look at what business support is available for the smallest firms, then there will be very little, if anything, on people management issues. That is a real missed opportunity.180

106.Professor Carol Atkinson similarly told us that the business support landscape “is complex, fragmented and difficult for time-poor SMEs to navigate.” She described in positive terms pilots by the CIPD that used local partners—city councils, Local Enterprise Partnerships, Growth Hubs and Chambers of Commerce—to engage with small and medium enterprises, with an emphasis on developing manager capability and expertise.181

107.It is therefore unsurprising that many of those we spoke to found it heartening that the Government’s recently-published Industrial Strategy identifies “meeting the needs of an ageing society” as one of four Grand Challenges.182 On employment, it commits the Government to support sectors to adapt to a changing and ageing workforce.183 As well as referencing the Fuller Working Lives strategy and the Business Champion, the Strategy states that:

We will also encourage industries to lead in adapting their workplaces to the requirements of an ageing workforce. To help realise the potential in the labour market, including amongst women, older workers, carers and disabled people, we will work with business to make flexible working a reality for all employees across Britain184

108.Another key policy development has been the publication of the Taylor Review into ‘good work’, referenced by many witnesses arguing for a greater focus on the quality of work available to older people.185 The Government response to that review acknowledges the relevance of the concept to older workers, as well as the challenge it poses:

For many […] older workers and those with caring responsibilities, permanent, fulltime work is not desirable and so a flexible approach encourages them to participate. However, this must be a positive choice.186

109.Lastly, the Cridland Review of the State Pension Age made some important findings regarding older workers.187 The Government response to the review acknowledges that increases to the state pension age timetable must form part of a wider system that enables older people to “have fulfilling employment or self-employment, while also supporting those whose work prospects are limited or curtailed by disability, health conditions, or caring responsibilities.”188

110.There are, therefore, at least four significant national policies all affecting employment for older people: Fuller Working Lives, the Government Business Champion and changing policy on the State Pension Age—led by the Department of Work and Pensions; and the Industrial Strategy and emerging policy on ‘good work’ following the Taylor Review—led by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Beneath each of these national strategies or policies are individual initiatives, many of which we heard about from Ministers in oral evidence.

111.Ministers told us of £5 million for ‘returnships’ enabling people, especially women, to return to the workplace;189 evaluation of the right to request flexible working;190 and a new focus on older workers from the National Careers Service, with additional funding for lifelong learning; older worker champions in job centre districts.191 Andrew Griffiths MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at BEIS, told us that he was shortly due to announce a new business champion for the ageing challenge under the Industrial Strategy “to make sure that there is somebody, in the same way that in the Department for Work and Pensions there is an older persons champion […] to make sure it is driven through.”192

112.The CIPD was concerned that there was a lack of coordination across Government, and Ministers acknowledged that policies could overlap. Andrew Griffiths described Fuller Working Lives and the Industrial Strategy as “complementary.”193 Alok Sharma MP, Minister of State for Employment at DWP, explained:

The reality is that, at the end of the day, individual departments are responsible for their own policies. As Andrew [Griffiths] said, what we do have […] is a whole bunch of these ministerial working groups and task forces. At those, we will collectively discuss individual pieces of policy, and input from various partners will go into that. What emerges in terms of policy at the other end is hopefully something that everybody has had an opportunity to discuss.194

113.We asked Alok Sharma if he planned to make any changes to the Fuller Working Lives strategy, given that it was adopted by his predecessor. While being clear that he did not “want to reinvent the wheel”, he told us that he had recently held a roundtable, chaired jointly with Andy Briggs, bringing together businesses and organisations that represent businesses. He told us:

I said to the group that we need to work out what is working in different sectors in terms of positive interventions to get people, older workers, into work and retrained. They have gone away to look at this in individual sectors. After recess, we will sit down again and have a look.195

114.The Government’s Fuller Working Lives strategy and the employer-led approach are positive developments, as is the recognition of the ageing population as one of the ‘grand challenges’ in the Industrial Strategy. We are not, however, convinced that sufficient thought has gone into ensuring that overlaps between policies do not become duplications. For example, it is unclear how the role of the proposed BEIS Business Champion under the Industrial Strategy would differ from that of Andy Briggs, the existing Government Business Champion for Older Workers. If these policies are not more clearly connected, the Government risks a plethora of unconnected, uncoordinated micro-initiatives that can alienate, rather than engage, business.

115.Further work is needed to reach smaller employers, and to develop complementary measures to address the issues that cannot be left to employers—primarily age bias and discrimination and the kind of life-long learning and support that can enable career change.

116.We recommend that the Government revisit its own actions in the Fuller Working Lives strategy to ensure that all the individual initiatives are connected to the overall strategy, and to other significant policy areas such as the Industrial Strategy. The strategy should also be updated to specifically address those areas that are best led by the Government rather than employers—including age discrimination—and that it refreshes its action planning under Fuller Working Lives to incorporate the recommendations of this report.

178 Age UK (OPE0036); Business in the Community (OPE0030); Centre for Ageing Better (OPE0039)

179 Centre for Ageing Better (OPE0039)

180 Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (OPE0032)

181 Professor Carol Atkinson (OPE0046)

182 The remaining three are: artificial intelligence and big data; clean growth; and the future of mobility.

183 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Industrial Strategy: building a Britain fit for the future 27 November 2017, page 54, accessed 26 June 2018

184 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Industrial Strategy: building a Britain fit for the future 27 November 2017, page 54, accessed 26 June 2018

185 Age UK (OPE0036); Centre for Ageing Better (OPE0039); Business in the Community (OPE0030); Recruitment and Employment Confederation (OPE0042). The review can be seen at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/good-work-the-taylor-review-of-modern-working-practices

186 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Government response to the Taylor review of modern working practices, February 2018,page 38, accessed 26 June 2018

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

188 Department for Work and Pensions, State Pension age review: final report, 19 July 2017, accessed 26 June 2018

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Published: 17 July 2018