Number of unemployed women over 65 triples in a year, research finds

As well as facing ‘heightened age discrimination’, experts warn older female workers are more likely to need flexibility because of caring responsibilities

The number of unemployed women over the age of 65 has nearly tripled during the last year, analysis of official data has found.

Analysis of data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) by jobs site Rest Less found that unemployment among this demographic increased by 193 per cent, reaching a record 21,000 in the period March to May 2021 (3.8 per cent), compared to 7,200 (1.2 per cent) in the same period last year.

This was also the first time since 2016 the unemployment rate for women in this age group was higher than for men. In the period March to May 2021, 2.3 per cent of men aged 65 and over were unemployed.

Economic activity levels also declined among women over the age of 65 since the start of the pandemic, despite the increase in the state pension age to 66.

In the March to May 2021 period, there were 32,000 fewer women in this age range either working or actively looking for work than in the same time a year ago, a fall of 5.5 per cent and a reversal of a long-term upward trend.

Among both men and women combined, unemployment levels for those aged 65 and over increased by 53 per cent over this period.

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The analysis comes as the ONS last week revealed that job vacancies now exceed pre-pandemic levels, with experts warning of skills shortages.

Stuart Lewis, founder of Rest Less, said it was clear the labour market recovery was not working for everyone, and that talented older workers were “at risk of getting left behind”, warning that the problem was likely to get worse when the furlough scheme comes to an end later this year.

As well as facing what Lewis described as “heightened age discrimination due to the pandemic”, older women were far more likely than their male counterparts to take on the role of carer for a parent or partner at home, meaning they often required flexibility to fit their work around these additional responsibilities – which was anothe barrier to work.

“There are far too many women in their sixties stuck between a rock and a hard place,” said Lewis. “They can’t find a job due to rampant age discrimination but they can’t yet claim their state pension either, which puts them in an extremely vulnerable financial position as they approach retirement.”

Figures released by the ONS last week showed there were 862,000 job vacancies in April to June this year: an increase of 241,200 (39 per cent) on the previous quarter and 77,500 (10 per cent) higher than the vacancy levels in January to March 2020. All but one sector saw an increase in the number of vacancies.

Jonathan Boys, labour market economist at the CIPD, said the redundancy figures were a positive sign, but that “any anxiety over job losses has been replaced by a fear of skills shortages”, particularly in sectors such as hospitality, which is rushing to re-open in time to capitalised on the summer.

Because of this, employers will have to work harder to attract and retain talent, said Boys. “Paying more is one solution; with skills shortages and inflation starting to bite, workers will be able to demand more money.

“However, in the long term, investing in training and skills can ensure robust talent pipelines,” he said.