Prime minister calls on employers to do more to support ageing workforce

May also urges businesses to help those with caring responsibilities

Employers must help meet the country’s “grand challenges” by supporting older workers and people with caring responsibilities, the prime minister said yesterday. 

In her science and modern industrial strategy speech, Theresa May said older workers should be able to “enjoy the emotional and physical benefits of having a job if they want one”.

May stressed that, as people started to live longer, “we should also work harder” to “increase quality of life in our later years”. 

She expected businesses to contribute and benefit by meeting the needs of this growing market so that “more people can contribute their talents for longer” and “fewer face loneliness and isolation”.

Anna Dixon, chief executive of the Centre for Ageing Better, welcomed May’s “commitment to increasing people’s quality of life in older age”, and reducing the “scandalous gap in healthy life expectancy between the richest and poorest in our society”.

"As we live longer, we also need to work for longer,” she added. “All employers need to adopt age-inclusive practices. 

“Too many older workers are leaving the labour market prematurely at great cost to them personally, as well as the state.”

Meanwhile, the work and pensions select committee last week recommended amending the Flexible Working Regulations 2014 to put in place a right to request flexible working from the first day of employment. The influential group of MPs said this would enable carers to continue working, rather than face six months of “uncertainty”. 

At present, individuals only have a right to request flexible working after 26 weeks with their employer. The committee warned that this left many using annual leave or sick days to fulfil caring responsibilities.  

May also said her government would focus on revamping the country’s education and skills offering, including introducing T-levels, which were “every bit as good as” A-levels, and launching a national retraining scheme “to help workers of all ages adapt their skills to the jobs of tomorrow”. 

Earlier this month, Robert Halfon, Conservative MP for Harlow and former skills minister, called for training and education that better reflected the needs of businesses

And in November, the government launched its industrial strategy white paper, which included measures such as a new national retraining scheme, £64m digital and construction training investment, and £406m for maths, digital and technical education.

At the time the white paper was launched, business secretary Greg Clark said the proposals would tackle Britain's productivity weakness. However, experts said the strategy lacked sufficient measures to address the UK’s skills and training gap and its dire productivity forecast.

May also stressed the importance of “the right regulation, modern employment standards and effective corporate governance rules” to allow “researchers, innovators and businesses to generate and develop the great ideas, products and services that create jobs and produce growth”.

More widely, May acknowledged “grand challenges” for the economy ahead. While committed to an “open and innovative economy” based on developing “a high-tech business”, she said the UK would remain “open to the brightest and the best researchers to come and make their valued contribution”.

Office for National Statistics migration figures, published in February, revealed that the number of EU citizens leaving the UK was at its highest level in a decade.

Many, including Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, have called for the retention of EU regulations and policies to make sure British businesses are able to continue to trade and employ the workers they require.