Support for over-50s to retrain or gain a new qualification is needed to reduce long-term unemployment, a report has said, as it reveals the number of older workers who have fallen out of work has nearly doubled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Centre for Ageing Better and the Learning and Work Institute found that one in 10 male, and eight in 10 female workers in their 50s and 60s face a significant risk of losing their jobs as the furlough scheme is wound down, as they are employed in “shutdown sectors” hardest hit by the lockdown.
Around 2.5 million employees in their 50s and 60s have been furloughed, and the think-tanks claim that hundreds of thousands may be unable to return to their jobs as employers make redundancies in an attempt to recover from the pandemic.
The Office for Budget Responsibility has predicted that around 15% of furloughed staff will become unemployed, which the report says equates to around 377,000 older workers.
The Centre for Ageing Better’s mid-life employment crisis report says that the number of people over 50 claiming unemployment-related benefits increased from 304,000 in March to 588,000 in June.
It finds over-50s are more likely to slip into long term joblessness than any other age group; just 35% who lose their job return to work ‘quickly’ with 29% remaining unemployed for more than 12 months, according to its analysis of Department for Work and Pensions data.
“Without action we could see many in their 50s and 60s falling out of the workforce years before their state pension age and struggling to get by until they are able to draw their pension,” said Anna Dixon, chief executive of the Centre for Ageing Better.
“We know that a one-size-fits-all model doesn’t work when it comes to helping over-50s back to work. Instead we need to see targeted support, and a strong message from government that these workers are just as entitled to support as younger age groups.”
The report sets out three steps the government can take to prevent long-term unemployment among the over 50s:
- A new back-to-work programme that includes effective incentives and does not repeat the mistakes made in the Work Programme, which was launched in 2011 following the last recession and saw few older participants move into sustained employment.
- Introduce tailored support for older workers to retrain, including an entitlement to funding for a qualification up to level 3.
- Undertake further work to understand the financial wellbeing of older workers and how the pandemic has affected them.
Older workers told researchers that they were worried about competing for jobs with younger people who had a better understanding of IT systems and new technology.
One said: “A few years ago we wouldn’t be working at this age, I would have retired and be getting my pension but obviously I’m not until I’m 66. So, it’s a horrible situation to be in because you’re not young enough to pick up the IT skills and get a job but you’re not old enough to get any money.”
The report identifies five challenges for older workers returning to work after Covid-19:
- Skills gaps in applying for jobs
- Developing new skills to transition into new sectors
- Finding flexible work
- Negative stereotypes of older workers and employer perceptions of the health risks posed by Covid-19
- Lack of confidence.
Stephen Evans, chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute, said: “While there has been much attention on the risks of youth unemployment as a result of this crisis, the lack of focus on older workers risks becoming a simmering crisis.
“We must ensure that nobody is left behind and that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. It is crucial that employment and skills support works for older workers.”
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