One in eight people (12 per cent) are being “consigned to poverty” after being forced to stop working before state pension age because of ill-health or disability, fresh analysis of official data has found.
Data from the Office for National Statistics, analysed by the TUC as part of its report Extending working lives: How to support older workers, found more than half a million (534,876) people aged 60 to 65 have had to leave the workplace because of medical reasons.
Since October 2020, the state pension age has been 66 for both men and women, and is expected to reach 67 by 2028.
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TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady warned that without government action, the impact on workers was only going to get worse and urged ministers to “reverse this alarming trend”.
“People should be able to retire in dignity with a decent pension when the time is right but many older workers are being forced to stop work earlier due to ill-health. They must not be consigned to years of poverty,” she said, calling on the government to stop plans for further rises in the pension age to focus instead on improving support for people too ill to work.
The TUC is also calling on the government to urgently work with unions and employers on developing training programmes for older workers, noting that older workers who lose their jobs as a result of the pandemic will face greater barriers getting back into work and are twice as likely as younger workers to become long-term unemployed.
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People in low-income roles were worst affected, according to the analysis: one in three low-paid workers who left their jobs before state pension age did so because of ill-health, compared to just one in 20 professionals.
There were also significant regional divides, with workers in north-east England and Northern Ireland faring worse than the south-east England.
“Older workers have a crucial role to play in the labour market. But like everyone else they need access to decent training. This is especially important as we emerge from this pandemic,” said O’Grady. “Many older staff are at risk of losing their jobs and we know they face extra barriers getting back into work.”
Emily Andrews, senior evidence manager at the Centre for Ageing Better, said the report showed that with the state pension age rising it was crucial people in mid and later life got the support they needed to manage their health conditions at work.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that many changes to the way we work – such as increased flexibility and workplace adjustments – can be implemented almost overnight,” she said.
“As we move forward, there is no excuse for people with health conditions or disabilities to be shut out of the workplace. Employers must grasp this opportunity to create workplaces that are fit for all our longer working lives.”