‘Employers need more support to address ageing population issues’

New research highlights the need for more action from employers to extend people’s working lives – and more support for SMEs.

Older man walking to work in London


Most employers are not engaged or invested enough in helping to extend older workers’ working lives, according to a study on extending working lives, with SMEs most likely not to be taking action.

The research, led by Dr Rachel Crossdale form the University of Sheffield and published earlier this year, focuses on Extending Working Lives [EWLs], which has been a key policy response to the challenges presented by an ageing population in the United Kingdom. It comes amid concerns about older workers dropping out of the labour force and in the run-up to the Budget where announcements are expected on how to address this.

The study finds that initiatives to support EWLs have been “piecemeal, unevenly distributed and implemented, poorly promoted, and not ambitious enough”. It says the initiatives have lacked formal evaluation leading to an absence of robust evidence and says UK policy fails to make working longer realistic or fulfilling for people in insecure, low-paid work.

While the report finds some evidence of positive localised programmes focussing on the needs of older jobseekers, it says there is a lack of evidence about what works and that access to upskilling and support is a postcode lottery.  SMEs are more likely to be unaware of requirements related to age discrimination and flexible working policies, which are less likely to have the capacity to implement and monitor schemes. This can result in low take-up.

The study states that older workers at greatest disadvantage in an ageing population are women and people with a minoritised ethnic background as they are more likely to have taken breaks from work due to caring responsibilities or to be in precarious and insecure work.

It says that EWLs is considered the best policy to address many of the risks associated with an ageing population, including old age poverty and ill health, with Covid having made it even more urgent that these are addressed.

It states: “The UK needs to act now as the work done previously to encourage and promote EWLs risks being undone, making the threat of labour force skill shortages very pressing. This is particularly likely to have an impact on the  , Health and Social Care, Public Administration, Manufacturing, Construction, Transport and Retail sectors, as older workers are disproportionately likely to leave these sectors prior to pension age.”

The report has several recommendations, including:

  • making policies more joined up and integrated, for instance, taking an intersectional approach to age.
  • raising awareness of schemes that would help older workers and targeting them for lifelong learning and upskilling.
  • more publicity around flexible working and age discrimination legislation
  • introducing a life course focussed strategy and associated policies to combat inequality which aim to both prevent ill-health and skills obsolescence and address care and the labour market challenges.

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