1.3m older workers not looking for work due to ill health

New analysis of ONS figures shows a big increase since 2019 in older workers not working due to long-term or temporary ill health.

Older woman works at laptop with facemask on


The number of economically inactive 50-64 year olds reached 3.5 million in July-September this year, with 1.3 million (38%) of them said they are not actively looking for work due to sickness, according to new analysis of Office for National Statistics figures.

Community website Rest Less says that in July to September this year, there were 207,000 more 50-64 year olds who were economically inactive than the same period two years ago – a 6% increase.

The most common reason given for economic inactivity in July-September this year was long-term sickness. Of the 3.5 million economically inactive people aged between 50-64, 1.24 million said they weren’t working because of long-term sickness (up by 86,000 – 7% – compared with July-September 2019) and 82,000 said it was because of temporary sickness (up by 22,000 – 36% – compared with July-September 2019). 1,189,152 had retired, a 6% increase on 2019, and there was a 13% increase in the number who said they were not looking for work due to being a student. However, the number who were not looking due to caring responsibilities had fallen by 5% to just under half a million people.

Stuart Lewis, Founder of Rest Less, said: “At a time when the economy is suffering from widespread labour shortages, of particular note to employers should be that more than 500,000 of the 3.5 million economically inactive people in this age group still said they wanted a job.

“Investment in flexible working policies and practices that offer people meaningful work on terms that work for them, is long overdue and will help support a large, talented but previously overlooked portion of society back into the workforce. Flexible working does not just mean remote working. Instead it encompasses flexible working patterns, management by objectives (not hours worked), as well as the location from which you work. In response to its consultation on flexible working, we hope to see the Government make legislative changes enshrining the importance of flexible working for everyone. This will give many more people access to a jobs market from which they’ve previously felt shut out of.”

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