Calls for linked-up action on older people

A session on older workers at the Women and Equalities Committee yesterday heard that many of the problems facing older people are linked from work to health and housing.

Older man looking serious


The UK needs a cross-departmental minister or commissioner for older people to bring together all the factors that affect them which are closely linked, from health to work, an expert told the Women and Equalities Committee yesterday.

Professor Wendy Loretto from the University of Edinburgh Business School told the inquiry on older workers that the problems facing older people are not just employment-related and all of them are linked. Jonathan Boys from the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development said demographic changes brought in a range of different policy issues, from immigration to fertility, and he said the UK needs more expertise in this area. Natalie Hall from 55 Redefined raised concerns that over 50s are a huge group which is not homogenous.

The discussion ranged across many different issues, including health, economic inactivity, inequality, grandparenting duties, forced retirement and returner policies [and concerns that these are being cut back] as well as access to training and upskilling. Nicola Smith from the TUC spoke of the impact of years of cuts to adult learning. She added that older employees need support in having conversations about training due to ageist attitudes. Professor Loretto said sensitivity is also needed when having conversations about health because workers may be worried about being labelled old and ill. 

On the other hand, employers are worried about falling foul of the Equality Act, which can make them cautious about having conversations with older workers. Professor Loretto said this has left a vacuum where future planning used to be. She added that the problem resulted in older workers being ignored and feeling undervalued. She has been doing work with Age Scotland to train managers about how to have conversations about retirement planning which are not ageist. Smith said she felt the problem was not insurmountable and just required clear guidance and training. “The Equality Act is not the problem,” she said.


Speaking about health, Professor Loretto said more data is needed, particularly on hidden health issues such as sleep, which have a big impact on older people, such as women experiencing the menopause, and a knock-on effect on work. Very few of the big surveys on work don’t have any questions about the menopause, she said. Boys mentioned stress as being an underdiagnosed health problem in older workers. Professor Loretto is collaborating on the development of an app to help people better understand the links between health and work so they can take advantage of work-based policies that might cater better to their health needs.

She added that campaigners need to be careful when it comes to talking about the business case for older workers that they are not basing that mainly on white collar workers who tend to be wealthier and healthier and to have more access to flexible working. 

Best practice

There are many things employers can do to help older workers, the Committee heard, including offering flexible working as a default option, advertising jobs as flexible and promoting flexible working using imagery that is not solely focused on younger people, particularly pregnant women. Imagery is also important when it comes to recruitment. There was also a big discussion of ageism, including internalised ageism, with one speaker talking about a 40% difference in success among older jobseekers in relation to the age of the recruiter. Speakers talked about best practice and said SMEs are often doing a lot of good work on occupational health because they are closer to their employees.

Professor Loretto spoke about self employment and the growing number of older workers who do it – an area she says has been understudied, even though it represented an important area for flexible working. Smith counselled that self employment is often very insecure and low paid.

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