Not retiring: On yer bike

Is Deliveroo the answer to labour shortages associated with the rise in over 50s becoming economically inactive?


So Deliveroo is promoting itself to over 50s, launching an awareness campaign “to highlight the benefits of flexible work it offers to older people”. It is pitching a 62% increase in over 50s riders between 2021 and 2023  as the kind of flexible work economically inactive older people need to get back into work. And it has been backed in that by the Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride, who said: “We’re investing billions as a government to get people into work and boost our economy, but we need businesses to step up too. That’s why it has been great to see how Deliveroo is spotlighting flexible opportunities out there for over-50s, and the benefits of work for all ages.”

In launching the campaign, Deliveroo is promoting what it offers to its self-employed workers –  free, automatic insurance and income protection in case of sickness, free insurance, covering riders for personal accident and third party liability insurance and the right to collective bargaining on pay and to consultation on benefits and other issues, including riders’ health, safety and wellbeing. All of this has come on the heels of legal action by Deliveroo riders over employment rights, which ended with the Court of Appeal ruling that its riders are self employed and not employees. This came as part of a wave of different cases by ‘flexible’ gig workers campaigning for greater rights.

The appeal to over 50s comes after research has shown many older workers who have become economically inactive have done so due to health reasons. Many have multiple health conditions and a mix of mental and physical health problems. NHS delays have made this situation worse. Will getting a job with Deliveroo help?

Moreover, could the increase in older workers working as Deliveroo couriers and drivers be the result of a short-term solution during a bumpy recruitment period, particularly for older people, or people needing a second or third job on the side to boost their income during a cost of living crisis? Is that not more a symptom of pay not keeping up in many cases with inflation rather than a realistic way of getting more older people back to work? How many older workers are relying on their Deliveroo income as their sole income and if so, how many make a good living from it?

Older people do generally want more flexible work, particularly if they have health or caring responsibilities, but this will not be any kind of long-term answer for most. What we need is more good quality flexible roles, a well functioning NHS and care system and proper support networks for those who need them.

I remember talking to a theatre director in late 2021. The Job Centre Plus had recommended that she get a job as a telecoms engineer. With the best will in the world, she said, she was not the best person to shinny up poles. She was in her early 60s.

We need realistic solutions to the labour shortages we face. That means understanding the causes of economic inactivity and unemployment in the older age group better. There is a fear that efforts to get older workers back to work might end up with benefits sanctions for those who fail to take the jobs on offer at Job Centres. This kind of announcement, which harks back to Norman Tebbit’s insensitive ‘get on your bikes’ call to the unemployed in the 1980s, does little to assuage such fears.

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