Over-50s three times more likely to be long-term unemployed, analysis reveals

Experts call for employment policies that harness the ‘often overlooked talent’ of older workers

The over-50s are almost three times more likely to be out of employment for at least two years than other age groups, analysis of official figures shows. 

According to an analysis of unemployment data from the Office for National Statistics, conducted by digital community Rest Less, three in 10 (30 per cent) of unemployed over-50s have been out of work for at least 12 months, while a fifth (20 per cent) have been out of work for at least two years.

This compares to a fifth (20 per cent) and 8 per cent of unemployed under-50s respectively.

Stuart Lewis, founder of Rest Less, said the analysis showed that older people out of work were “more prone to long-term unemployment” than other age groups in the same position. He warned that the UK risked creating a “lost generation of unemployed over-50s forced into an early retirement they neither want nor can afford”.

“Too often, highly skilled workers in their 50s and 60s suffer from age discrimination in the recruitment process, often being told they are ‘over qualified’ – a concept that simply doesn’t make sense,” Lewis said.

He added that the UK needed more employment and re-employment policies that harnessed the “often overlooked talent” of the over-50s if the country was to recover from the economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis, including tailored support and comprehensive retraining for the older people in the early stages of unemployment.

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This early intervention would reduce the disproportionate number of older workers drifting  into long-term unemployment, “where confidence can be badly hit and it can become even harder to get back into the workforce”, Lewis said.

Emily Andrews, senior evidence manager at the Centre for Ageing Better, agreed that the over-50s faced age bias in the recruitment process, which was a barrier to getting back into work and called for more action from the government. 

She said: “The over-50s have been hard hit by the pandemic, and face particular struggles getting back into work compared to younger workers – meaning they are much more likely to remain unemployed in the long term.

“Government back-to-work programmes haven’t worked for this age group – just one in five people aged 50-plus gained a job outcome from the work programme, compared to one in three 25 to 49-year-olds and 40 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds.”

The Rest Less analysis found unemployment levels for the over-50s in August to October had increased by 34 per cent since the beginning of the year and onset of the pandemic from January to March 2020. This was the biggest percentage increase of all age groups. The overall rise in unemployment levels was 24 per cent over the same time period.

Those over the age of 50 made up nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of all unemployed people in the UK between August and October – around 407,000 people.

Approximately, 688,000 people aged between 25 and 49 were unemployed during this period, and a total of 596,000 people aged 16 to 24 were out of work.