Warning over long-term unemployment for over 50’s

Two new reports call on the Government to recognise the problems associated with job loss and return to work for older workers.

Older lady sits in armchair looking pensive


Campaigners are issuing a warning that we could see an increase in long-term unemployment in the over 50s as a result of coronavirus and they are calliing for urgent government action to ensure older workers are not left behind.

A new report from the Centre for Ageing Better and Learning and Work Institute shows that the number of older workers on unemployment-related benefits has nearly doubled as a result of the pandemic – increasing from 304,000 in March to 588,000 in June.

It warns of a risk of a ‘second wave’ of job losses for older workers as the furlough scheme comes to an end in October. One in four older workers – 2.5 million in total – have been furloughed. The report says older workers who lose their jobs will find it more difficult to find new ones. It says just one in three (35%) over 50s who lose their job return to work quickly, compared to two in three (63%) workers aged 25-34. Over 50s who are unemployed are twice as likely to have been out of work for over a year than those aged 18 to 24.

Many older workers interviewed as part of the new research explained how the crisis had left them pessimistic about their future employment prospects, uncertain about their next steps, and concerned about employers’ perceptions of older workers.

The report says the government’s immediate employment response to the crisis has focused on younger workers, but says there is an urgent need to recognise the issues faced by older workers. It wants to see specifically targeted back to work support for ovre 50s and more support for older workers to retrain as well as more research to understand the financial impact of the crisis on older workers.

Anna Dixon, Chief Executive, Centre for Ageing Better, said: “As this report shows, older workers have been hit hard by the crisis, and it’s crucial that they are not forgotten in the recovery efforts.

“Without action we could see many in their 50s and 60s falling out of the workforce years before their state pension age and struggling to get by until they are able to draw their pension.

“We know that a one-size-fits-all model doesn’t work when it comes to helping over 50s back to work. Instead we need to see targeted support, and a strong message from government that these workers are just as entitled to support as younger age groups.”

Economic inactivity

Meanwhile, a report by over 50’s organisation Rest Less says nearly 200,000 over 50s have dropped out of the workforce and have become economically inactive since the Covid-19 outbreak, slightly higher than before the pandemic began.

It compared data from the Office of National Statistics in December – February compared with the most recent data from March – May.  It found that the inactivity levels of people aged over 50 rose more than any other age group in this time period, possibly due to early retirement or caring responsibilities.

Rest Less’ analysis shows that there were 198,000 workers aged over 50 who dropped out of the workforce entirely and became economically inactive since the pandemic began – an increase of 1.4 per cent in the most recent period (March – May) compared with the beginning of the year (December – February).  Economic inactivity declined in every other age group bar 35-49 year olds in which it rose by 1 per cent.

Stuart Lewis, Founder of Rest Less, said: “Many of today’s over 50s now have to work until they are 66 before they can claim their state pension. In addition to the rapid increase in the number of over 50s who are claiming Universal Credit (a 93% increase since the beginning of this year), these figures come as an alarming additional warning as to the true impact of the pandemic on older workers.

“In the wake of the toughest job market in decades, there has been a significant rise in the number of workers over 50 who have lost hope in finding a job and feel forced into an early retirement that many simply cannot afford. Sadly, these numbers are simply the canary in the coal mine: with the furlough scheme winding up and 2.5 million over 50s having been furloughed, we expect this to leave a permanent scar on this generation and their employment prospects.”

Lewis added that age discrimination could worsen the situation for over 50s who are made redundant.

The analysis shows women aged over 50 have been hit hardest, with nearly 100,000 leaving the workforce entirely since the beginning of the pandemic.  The economic inactivity rates of all other female age groups fell apart from the over 50s which rose by 1.3% in March – May compared with December – February.  The figure was highest amongst working age women between 50 and 64 whose economic inactivity levels rose by two per cent.

Lewis added: “The gender pay gap is at its widest for women in their 50s. Years of an earnings gap has led to a large pension savings gap between men and women which leaves many women in their 50s and 60s in a financially precarious position ahead of retirement.

“In a tough labour market, it can be much harder for people to return to the workplace if they have been out of the workforce for any length of time. Women are far more likely to have taken time out to care for children, parents or a relative than their male counterparts, placing them at a natural disadvantage to other candidates who never left the workforce.

“In the last recession of 2009, women could retire at 60. Today they retire at 66, meaning there are 2.4 million more women having to find work before they are entitled to claim their state pension.”


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