Older workers returning to labour market amid cost of living crisis, analysis suggests

Experts say recruiters should make the most of the skills and experience gained by over-50s throughout their years in the workforce

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The number of over-50s either in work or looking for work has reached pre-pandemic levels, new research has revealed, with more than one in 10 retirees saying they would consider going back to work because of the increased cost of living.

Men aged 65 and over were responsible for the biggest rise, with an 8.5 per cent increase in one year, and a 6.8 per cent increase for women over 65. 

This compares to a 0.13 per cent increase for those aged 50 to 64, according to analysis by Rest Less. 

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The number of over-50s in or looking for work hit a peak of just over 11 million before the pandemic, from December 2019 to February 2020. Numbers then fell to lower than the previous decade during the pandemic. 

When asked by Rest Less if they would consider going back to work, one in three retirees said they would. A third said they would return for the mental and social stimulation, while 12 per cent said it would be because of the increase in the cost of living. 

Earlier this year it was revealed that half of unemployed men over the age of 50 have been out of work for at least a year. 

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Emily Andrews, deputy director for Work at the Centre for Ageing Better, said that while labour market statistics for older workers in the last month show a small rise in the number of older workers returning to employment, the overall employment picture for older workers since the pandemic has been “very dire”.

 “This longer trend will have been very damaging for the UK economy and for businesses missing out on the range of benefits that comes from employing older workers,” she said. 

“It will also have been extremely damaging for many of the older workers who may not have chosen to exit the jobs market but felt forced out because of the limited opportunities open to them. 

Commenting on situations where people have been driven back to work by financial necessity in the face of the cost of living crisis, Andrews said there was “always a risk that they will take work that does not fully utilise their skills, nor recognise their experience”.

She added that while the Department for Work and Pensions had taken positive steps towards recognising the specific needs of job seekers over 50, there were many that this help wouldn’t reach. 

“We need to see more comprehensive action to solve the workforce crisis the country is facing: with employment and training support for those who are not claiming benefits, and broader action to tackle an ageist labour market,” said Andrews.

“Older workers should not be made to feel they need to give up on hopes of working before their time because they feel excluded and should not feel forced to take jobs below their skills and potential simply to make ends meet.”

The CIPD’s senior labour market economist, Jon Boys, said that, at a time when candidates are in short supply, employers must work harder to attract and retain older workers. 

“Our research report – Understanding older workers – showed that older workers have a preference for flexible working. Older workers are also more likely to have a health condition making a focus on health and wellbeing and making it important to implement reasonable adjustments,” he said.

Charlotte Gibb, employment and skills campaign manager at Business in the Community, echoed the message that the skills and years of experience offered by older workers adds value to the workplace and can help fill talent shortages.

But, she added, “we know that older jobseekers are among those who will continue to be overlooked unless businesses change the way they recruit”.

“Employers need to adopt inclusive recruitment practices, such as focusing on the essential skills needed for a role rather than the age of the candidates,” she said.

Alastair Woods, head of pay and reward at PwC UK, said: "One of the biggest issues currently facing the UK is the shortage of skills, brought about in part by the disappearance of older workers from the workforce during and following the pandemic. Their return should be welcomed and is much needed.

“Some of our recent workforce research has shown that flexibility in how and when they work is very important to older generations – around 33 per cent cited this as extremely or very important – and it is therefore incumbent on employers to identify ways to make work attractive to entice this experienced group back to work,” he added.

David Lain, senior lecturer in employment studies at Newcastle University Business School, said the figures were mostly reflective of older workers staying in jobs, rather than moving into new roles.

“This is in the context of state pension age rises and the near abolition of mandatory retirement ages in 2011. Historically older people have found it relatively hard to get jobs as employees in organisations.

“If more people are returning to work from retirement, this would no doubt reflect rising financial pressures, including those resulting from the current cost of living crisis,” he said.