Covid has damaged older workers’ employment prospects, figures show

Official data reveals large proportion of over-50s have worked fewer hours and are more likely to have been made redundant in the wake of the pandemic

The Covid pandemic has negatively affected employment prospects for those over the age of 50, according to new data.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that workers aged 50 and over were more likely to report working fewer hours than usual, with those over 65 most likely to say they had worked reduced hours.

The over-50s also made up more than a quarter of the 1.3 million people who were furloughed, and three in 10 of those workers on furlough believe there is a 50 per cent or higher chance that they will lose their job when the scheme ends.

Between December 2020 and February 2021, the employment rate for those aged 50 to 64 fell from 72 per cent to 71 per cent, and for those aged 65 years and over it fell from 11.5 per cent to 10 per cent.

Those over 50 also saw the highest increase in redundancy over the same period, more than doubling from 4.3 to 9.7 per thousand and representing the highest redundancy rate across age groups in the latest quarter.

The figures also showed that one in eight workers aged 50 and over have changed their retirement plans as a result of the pandemic, with 8 per cent planning to retire later than originally planned. 

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Last month, the Resolution Foundation reported that, after almost consistent employment growth for older workers since the mid-1990s, since the start of the pandemic employment among workers aged 50 to 69 dropped 1.4 percentage points.

“It is very concerning that the number of older workers is falling after a long-term rising trend, and redundancies among people over 50 are rising too,” said Angela Watson, age campaign manager at Business in the Community.

“On the eve of the pandemic, over-50s in the workplace were at an all-time high. But now the trend has reversed and, with large numbers of older workers on furlough, more over-50s face redundancy when that ends. But this talent doesn’t need to be wasted, and creating an age-inclusive culture is the key to make sure that everyone can feel included at work.

“Many of the one in seven employees who are caring for an older, ill or disabled person are older workers, and businesses need to offer flexible working patterns. 

“They also need to support the health needs of older employees, such as menopause, help people of all ages develop their careers, and make sure their recruitment policies are fair and not biased against older candidates. By taking these steps, businesses will create an inclusive culture and ensure that age doesn’t limit a person’s success.” 

Wendy Loretto, dean of the University of Edinburgh Business School, said the findings showed the need for businesses and governments to factor support for older workers into their economic recovery plans.

“The figures indicate a growing gap between those who have choices over many aspects of their lives, including where and when to work and timing of retirement, and those who are in a situation with much lower control – in less secure jobs with little or no choice over decisions around retirement,” she said.

“From our research, this latter group is most likely to need to keep working for financial reasons, but is also likely to include people who may be struggling to do so for health or caring reasons.” 

Matt Flynn, professor at the University of Hull and director of the Centre for Research into the Older Workforce, added: “The findings show that although young people have been most seriously displaced, a significant number of older people have been as well. 

“The big problem for 50-plus workers is that, once they lose their jobs, they often find it difficult to get back into work and even more difficult to get back into work that matches their previous salaries and skills levels. 

“Unemployment and underemployment of older workers is a huge waste of skills and experience, which an economy that is just coming out of lockdown can ill afford to lose.”