How will the Budget help older workers?

A Centre for Ageing Better webinar this week heard from a range of experts who gave their analysis of the Budget.

Man having a doctor's appointment


What does the Budget mean for older workers? A Centre for Ageing Better webinar this week looked at the proposals in detail – or as much detail as currently exists. It was generally agreed that it was a mixed bag with some areas of potential.

Emily Andrews, Deputy Director for Work at the Centre for Ageing Better, said it was exciting to hear the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt talk about older workers. But there was disappointment at the tax breaks for older workers as they don’t help those who really need support. Andrews said her heart sank when Hunt suggested that older workers are ‘by definition’ on higher salaries which she said does not take account of the many older workers on low pay or those not able to work or having to work less due to health and disability problems or caring responsibilities.

She said many older workers were being failed by the labour market. “It doesn’t really deliver for them,” she said. On the specifics of the Budget Andrews said that the Centre for Ageing Better is in favour of midlife MOTs and not averse to digital versions of the check-ups, as announced by the Chancellor, but she felt the investment in them was not very significant and she was more interested in the ongoing pilots for delivering face to face MOTs via third party providers to people in employment, rather than those who are seeking work. She is also interested in what happens next, for instance, whether the state will fund midlife MOTs for employers, particularly SMEs, and who might end up paying for them.

On returnerships, also announced in the Budget, Andrews said they don’t look new, a view that was repeated by other speakers. She felt it was more about giving more money to existing training and skills programmes and bundling them up and targeting them at older workers with a returnership label. She would like to see more evidence of how effective they are for people in their 50s and 60s and older learners generally.

On health, Andrews said the Work Well Partnerships, which will pilot integrated health and work partnerships, could be a vehicle for holistic care and the money for the Universal Support programme to get people with health issues back to work represented a substantial investment. She praised the fact that the programme is voluntary and said it sounds as if it will be based on the Kick Start model which supports the long-term unemployed back to work and for several months when they get a job.  Andrews says that while a targeted programme is the best way to tackle systemic disadvantage, there are questions about who will be able to access it and how much more effective it might be than the current Work and Health programme which has only got a handful of people into jobs so far.

“Overall, there is opportunity and there are potential benefits, but it’s not a done deal,” she stated, mentioning other questions over areas such as the role of employers and the future of the benefits system.


From disability to self employment

Professor Liz Sayce, former chief executive of Disability Rights Now, spoke about the disability white paper which aims to remove disincentives to work.  It does away, for instance, with the Work Capability Assessment. Instead  the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment will be used to decide whether a person will receive a new Universal Credit health element. However, Professor Sayce said the door has been left open as to whether the PIP criteria will change and she called for any discussion on changes to take place with stakeholders’ views at the centre.

She was positive about the Universal Support programme, particularly its voluntary nature, but wanted to see how much of the extra money was new and she pointed out that the extension of benefits sanctions could erode the relationship between jobseekers and Job Centres Plus which could put at risk any support offered through them.

Fiona Aldridge, Head of Insight, Economic Delivery, Skills and Communities at West Midlands Combined Authority, said a third of its residents are over 50 and that the authority had seen a big rise in economic inactivity in the last few years, particularly for men. She said any support must be joined up and take account of the wider range of services needed to help people back to work, from transport to social care as well as the need for employers to design jobs that older people can do. And she called for support to be tailored to individuals and to their local region.

She also said the pensions reforms announced were focused on a very small group and there was no discussion of wider pensions reform.

Emilia Quist, Head of Policy Research at the Federation of Small Businesses, said self employment was missing from the Budget, given many business owners are over 50 and a quarter of these have long term health issues or a disability.

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