Government must ‘rebalance’ support for younger people in employment, says House of Lords committee

25 Apr 2019 By Maggie Baska

Ministers urged to target those entering labour market, as experts warn most employers failing to anticipate implications of an ageing workforce

Policy must be rebalanced in favour of younger people in the employment market to deliver better in-work training and lifelong learning to prepare the UK for longer working lives, a House of Lords committee has said. 

The select committee on intergenerational fairness and provision has today called on the government to “deliver a fairer society” by shifting the balance of support towards younger people entering the labour market. 

In the report, Tackling Intergenerational Unfairness, committee chair Lord Nicolas True said there was a risk relations between younger and older people “could be undermined if the government does not get a grip on key issues” including secure employment and fairness in tax and benefits.

The report went on to say the government was not taking sufficient steps to tackle insecure employment, notably in the gig economy, saying younger people working in this area should have the same rights as elsewhere to protect them from “exploitation or insecurity”. 

It warned younger people would “grow to resent older people” for having “benefited from a lifetime of well-paid secure employment of which younger generations can only dream” if no action is taken now. 

However, Caroline Abrahams, director of Age UK, said helping younger generations with employment should not come at the expense of older generations. She said this approach underplayed the extent of need among older people, and “skates over the great difficulty of ensuring a targeted approach” which actually reaches those older people who are the most vulnerable. 

“More profoundly we reject the notion that helping younger and older people is an ‘either/or’; in practice many at both ends of the age spectrum need our society’s support and an advanced 21st-century economy like the UK is well placed to provide it,” Abrahams said. 

The report also said the three-stage model of working life, in which education progresses directly to work until eventual retirement, was “no longer suitable with the prospect of careers that might span over 60 years”. 

It said insecure employment was “concentrated in the younger part of the age spectrum”, and while this may not be a problem if insecure work is performed alongside education, the committee said it posed a problem when insecure work accounted for a young persons only source of employment. 

The report also argued insecure work meant young people were being unfairly given self-employed status, meaning they missed out on key workers’ rights like holiday pay or national minimum wage. It called for employers to assume worker status as the “default” employment model, in order to make the rights and protections that come with this status enforceable without interfering with the rights of those who genuinely wish for self-employment status to adopt it. 

The report also highlighted that, in the context of individuals living and working longer, continuous training and retraining would become more important for employers and their workforce. Older workers would need to be equipped and supported to respond to a changing labour market. 

The CIPD, in written evidence to the committee, said both employers and employees recognise the potential benefits from age-diverse teams – especially when it comes to sharing knowledge and different ways of thinking. 

But most employers were failing to anticipate the implications of population ageing or plan for it in any strategic manner, the CIPD said, with most “preferring to deal with problems as they arose (if they did so at all)”. This reflects the inability, or unwillingness, of most UK employers to engage in strategic workforce planning.

Separately, a new report from the OECD has also said governments are failing to help people in work – particularly those in low-skilled jobs – retrain throughout their career to prevent “skills depreciation and obsolescence and facilitate transitions across jobs”. 

The OECD Employment Outlook report found workers were ill-prepared for the impact of artificial intelligence which will radically change jobs and careers. Training participation was lowest among those the OECD said needed it the most – the low-skilled, mature workers, those in part-time and temporary workers. 

The OECD said technological changes also gave people “greater freedom to decide where, when and how they work” and create “new opportunities for previously under-represented groups to participate in the labour market”. 

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