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A new report says many older workers have left work against their own wishes due to health reasons due to ageist and ableist attitudes at work or lack of support from their employer.
The vast majority of older workers who left the labour market as a result of ill health did so against their own wishes, with some saying the decision was taken out of their hands, according to a new study.
The study, by think tank Demos in partnership with the Physiological Society, looks at the increased number of people aged 50-64 – over 100,000 more – who became economically inactive during the pandemic and no longer work due to health conditions. The most likely health reasons reported that have had an impact on people’s ability to work or to work longer hours are stress, mental health conditions and musculoskeletal issues, says the report.
It states that the UK is the only high-income country which has seen a sustained rise in economic inactivity among this age group since the start of the pandemic.
The report, Understanding ‘Early Exiters’, shows that, among those aged 50-64 whose work has been impacted by poor health, 24% took early retirement as a result and 19% reduced their working hours. But the majority left against their wishes often due to experiences of ageism or ableism at work as well as insufficient support from their employers or the NHS.
It states that those leaving work may experience negative health consequences with evidence showing that work is generally good for people’s physical and mental health and wellbeing as well as their financial wellbeing. The report says the cost of living crisis was a serious worry for many of the over 50s it spoke to for the report. Some people said they could not afford to pay their bills and the report notes that there is a real risk of rising poverty among over 50s who have left work due to health conditions.
The report says: “The ill health that many people in their 50s and 60s experience is not an inevitable part of ageing. Medical and physiological research has shown that, while ageing has some impact on health in and of itself, other risk factors that do not necessarily correspond with age affect people’s health to a greater degree. These factors include physical inactivity, BMI/obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption and diet/nutrition. The implication for both policy makers and employers is that their focus should be less on people’s chronological age, and more on maintaining and improving people’s health.
The report calls for an Ageing Workforce Strategy: a cross-government approach, including tax incentives to improve access to occupational health, better integration of health and employment support and more scientific and physiological research to weaken the link between ill health and older age.
It says employers could do more to promote healthy lifestyles and signpost to advice. It also calls for more support to help older people with health conditions to return to work; medium-term prevention by improving the quality and design of work and the workplace so that they support older workers’ health; and long-term prevention by improving public health over the course of people’s lives, and by advancing scientific research, including physiological research, on ageing.
A study last week by the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that economic inactivity due to health reasons has been going up steadily among the older worker group for years and that, although the number of people who are economically inactive due to poor health has risen during the pandemic, many became ill after dropping out of the workplace for other reasons such as early retirement or losing their jobs.