Thousands of older staff dropped out of the workforce during lockdown, figures show

Many over-50s ‘forced into an early retirement they cannot afford’, as employers warned of rise in age discrimination   

Nearly 200,000 people over the age of 50 have dropped out of the workforce or become economically inactive since the start of the coronavirus outbreak in the UK, analysis of official figures has found.

The analysis of Office for National Statistics data by jobsite Rest Less found that, since the start of lockdown, there has been a greater increase in economic inactivity among this age group than any other demographic.

Economic inactivity for the over-50s rose 1.4 per cent from 13.9 million to 14.1 million between the three months to February and the three months to May – equating to 198,000 older workers leaving the workforce as a result of the pandemic.

By comparison, economic inactivity increased just 1 per cent among those aged 35 to 49, and actually fell 1 per cent and 0.8 per cent among those aged between 25 to 36 and 18 to 24 respectively.

Stuart Lewis, founder of Rest Less, said the figures suggested a significant number of older workers had “lost hope” in finding a job. These individuals were being “forced into an early retirement that many simply cannot afford,” he said. He added that age discrimination – already a problem in UK workplaces – was likely to have worsened as a result of the crisis.

“Age discrimination in the workplace was rife before the pandemic, and is only set to increase in the wake of the crisis,” said Lewis. “Older workers have powered UK employment and economic growth over the last 10 years: if we lose this generation from the workforce entirely, we risk losing valuable key skills and key workers from the workplace for good.”

Get more HR and employment law news like this delivered straight to your inbox every day – sign up to People Management’s PM Daily newsletter

The analysis found women over the age of 50 were the demographic hardest hit, with more than 100,000 leaving the workforce entirely since the start of the outbreak. For women aged between 50 and 64, economic inactivity increased 2 per cent since the start of lockdown.

The figures added to mounting evidence that the economic effects of the coronavirus crisis have predominantly been felt by those at either end of the age spectrum – those just entering the workforce and older workers closest to retirement. A separate piece of analysis by the Financial Conduct Authority earlier this month found that baby boomers, defined as those aged between 55 and 74, suffered a larger drop in earnings during the outbreak when compared to younger workers.

This age group saw on average a 23 per cent decrease in earnings because of the coronavirus crisis, compared to a 19 per cent drop in earnings among millennials – born between 1981 and 2000 – and a 17 per cent reduction for generation X, born between 1966 and 1980.

However, older workers were still less likely to be in financial difficulties as a result of lost earnings, in part because they tended to be on higher salaries to begin with, and also because they tended to have more savings.