A TUC report shows a need for reskilling and greater flexible working to address the growing number of older workers who have dropped out of work due to health issues, particularly those in manual jobs.
The number of older workers who have left the labour market due to sickness and ill health (97,000) is nearly twice the rate of those who have retired (50,000) during the pandemic, according to new TUC analysis.
Overall, the number of people aged 50-65 who were not looking for work increased by 200,000 since the pandemic began.
The analysis shows those in working-class jobs are much more likely to say they have left the labour market due to sickness. Around four in 10 workers (40 per cent) in “process plant and machinery jobs” and “elementary occupations” – such as security guards and cleaners – say they have left the labour market due to sickness or ill health, compared with one in 10 who work in professional occupations.
BME workers are more likely to have left the labour market due to sickness before they reach retirement age.
Four in 10 (40 per cent) BME workers in this age group who have left the labour market have done so because of sickness and ill health, compared to 3 in 10 (33 per cent) of white workers.
The TUC says a significant gap in average pension wealth means white workers are more likely to be in a position to choose to retire before they reach state pension age. Just 17 per cent of BME workers aged 50-65 who have left the labour market have been able to retire at this age – compared to 40 per cent of white workers.
BME workers in this age group who have left the labour market are also far more likely to be caring for family members (25 per cent) compared to 12 per cent of white workers.
The TUC says that plans to tackle labour shortages by helping more older workers stay in work must address the long running structural inequalities that result in workers on lower pay and BME workers being pushed out of work for health reasons.
It is calling for a mid-life career and skills review for all workers to help older workers to plan, progress and prosper in later life. This includes expanding existing skills entitlements and establishing a new “right to retrain”. It also wants to see greater availability of flexible working and stronger legal rights to flexible working, including a day one right to it unless the employer can properly justify why this is not possible, the right to appeal any rejections and no limit on how many times a worker can ask for flexible working arrangements in a single year.
The TUC also says that ministers must urgently review plans to raise the retirement age, shelve plans for further state pension age increases and use the independent review of state pension age to develop a framework that links any future increases to improved life expectancy in the most deprived areas.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “All workers should be able to retire in dignity with a decent pension when the time is right.
“But many older workers – particularly BME workers and those who work in working-class professions – are being forced to stop work earlier due to ill health. They must not be consigned to years of poverty and sickness.
“The government should stop plans for further rises in the pension age and focus on improving support for people who are being forced out of work by ill health. That should include providing all workers with a mid-life skills review, and putting in place the reasonable adjustments and flexible working people need to stay in work.
“And government must tackle the structural inequalities that are forcing BME and low-income older workers out of the labour market before retirement age.”
Meanwhile, an employment tribunal has found a metal engineering and technology firm Vesuvius guilty of age discrimination and victimisation in relation to the unfair dismissal of a senior executive. Glenn Cowie, who was 58 at the time of his dismissal, claimed he was called an “old fossil” by his CEO, had been subjected to “unfair and arbitrary business targets” and forced to relocate before being dismissed.