Call for action on older workers’ health

A new report from the TUC says 12% of older workers are leaving work early due to ill health or disability and that this could get worse as the state pension age increases.

elder care


Hundreds of thousands of older workers are being “consigned to poverty” due to ill health, according to a report by the TUC which finds 12% of men and women are forced to stop working before state pension age due to ill-health or disability.

The report, Extending working lives: how to support older workers, finds that more than half a million (534,876) workers aged 60 to 65 have had to leave the workplace due to medical reasons, with those in low-income jobs such as manual or care work, being six times more likely to quit due to medical reasons than those in higher-paid jobs. A third of low-paid workers who left their jobs before state pension age did so because of ill health.  By contrast, just one in 20 professionals who left the labour market early did so because of long-term sickness.

The analysis also shows clear regional disparities. In the South West of England and the West Midlands 1 in 12 people aged 60 to 66 have left work due to long-term sickness or disability.  However, this rises to one in five in Northern Ireland.

The TUC says equalising the state pension age will deepen inequalities, with women more likely to be in lower paid jobs. It is projected that, by the end of the decade, women can expect more than 16 years of ill health before they can draw their state pension.

The TUC is calling on the government to urgently work with unions and employers on developing training programmes for older workers, given older workers who lose their jobs as a result of the pandemic will face greater barriers getting back into work and are twice as likely as younger workers to become long-term unemployed.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:  “People should be able to retire in dignity with a decent pension when the time is right. But many older workers are being forced to stop work earlier due to ill health. They must not be consigned to years of poverty.

“The government should stop plans for further rises in the pension age and focus on improving support for people who are too ill to work.  And it should tackle the health inequalities that are causing it. With healthy life expectancy falling for women in poorer areas ministers need to reverse this alarming trend – not make them wait even longer for their pension.”

The TUC is calling for wage subsidies for good quality, new jobs and funded training opportunities for older workers.

In the long term, it would like to see more focus on support for older workers, such as access to training, a ‘mid-career MOT’ and better rights to work flexibly; the shelving of planned increases in the state pension while an inquiry looks into longevity issues; and the reform of the social security system so that it provides an adequate safety net for workers of all ages, with increased flexibility around how retirement age benefits are accessed.

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