Workingwise.co.uk’s annual survey was published for National Older Workers Week and...read more
Health infrastructure is closely tied to economic recovery, and older workers are more affected than most.
It’s been a quiet week in terms of news about older workers. Despite articles on growing numbers of over 65s being in work – something that has been reported for some time – the main domestic news focus this week has been on the strikes, particularly in the NHS. And these will affect older people more than others since they are more likely to be suffering from chronic health conditions or to be caring from someone who has a chronic health condition.
The impact on earnings of health issues is significant. A recent IPPR report found workers who have developed health conditions in recent years have seen their annual earnings drop by up to £1,700 on average while people living in the same household as someone who developed a chronic illness also saw their annual earnings fall by around £1,200 on average. Contributing factors included people leaving jobs, working fewer hours, taking early retirement, or not returning to work when they might have done if they were in better health. Costs also increased for many, for instance, travel to care settings, parking and medication bills.
One of the main reasons for the ongoing strikes is the state of the UK’s health system, something that Covid – and Brexit – has worsened in terms of staffing and workload. If the UK economy is to rebuild after the pandemic and all the other various turbulence it is facing, we need a strong health and care infrastructure. Lengthening waiting lists, queuing ambulances, lack of social care investment, all of these affect employers.
We also need a greater focus on flexible working for those who have long-term conditions, but want to keep working, not just to boost their earnings but also, possibly, their mental health. And we need more focus on occupational health, for instance, pooled resources for SMEs who can’t afford their own in-house OH provision. These are best placed to understand the nature of a person’s health condition and how reasonable adjustments might be made to the way they work. In addition, we need to provide more of the jobs – and training to do them – that can be done by people as they age or become less physically able. Some employers are already doing this – reskilling people and moving them around the business, but there is little national focus on this, given the urgency of the issue as the workforce continues to age and the state pension age rises.
Yes, many over 65s are very fit and full of energy, but the reality is that some kinds of jobs are more difficult – if not impossible – at an older age for most people. That needs to be acknowledged and prepared for. It’s been a long time coming. As we saw during Covid, preparation is vital.