By Emma Stewart MBE, CEO of Timewise
We hear a lot about the challenges created by an ageing population. With statistics suggesting that one in three of today’s babies will live to 100, the implications for policy areas such as healthcare, housing and the state pension can’t be ignored. The government has highlighted the ageing society as one of the DBEIS’s Four Grand Challenges, and the Centre for Ageing Better has set out the need to make big changes to support older people in their Transforming Later Lives strategy.
Yet the challenge also offers an opportunity, and one which we at Timewise are keen to grasp. Put simply, if people are living longer, they are likely to want or need to work for longer. Indeed, according to the Centre for Ageing Better, there are around a million people aged between 50 and 64 who are involuntarily out of work.
And with 48% of UK employers saying they’re concerned about candidate shortages, there’s a mutually beneficial solution staring us all in the face: more, better, flexible jobs that answer the needs of older workers. So we’re working with the Centre for Ageing Better on an Innovation Unit project to deliver exactly that.
Why older workers want to keep working
There are many reasons why older people want to keep working. They could be financial, such as the need to boost their income for a potentially long retirement, or to continue supporting younger or older members of the family. They could also be social and emotional; the cliff-edge nature of retirement, and how this affects wellbeing and increases loneliness, is well-known.
So, by staying in work longer, older people are less likely to fall into poverty and suffer from social isolation, both of which impact on their health as well as their quality of life. And, of course, they will also continue to contribute to the economy.
But that doesn’t mean older workers want to continue to work at the same pace or for the same amount of the week. Indeed, one in four UK workers feel they could not do their current job over the age of 60. There are also significant age biases in recruitment and within the workplace, as demonstrated in research by the Policy Exchange.
And, unsurprisingly, older workers frequently have health conditions and caring responsibilities, which can cause them to exit the workforce earlier than they might choose to. According to the DWP, 44% of people aged between 50 and retirement have at least one long-term health condition, and one in five women in their 50s are carers. That doesn’t mean they can’t work; but they might need to work a bit less, or in a different way.
Flexible working can help people work for longer
I believe that developing flexible solutions, and working to change employer attitudes, will allow these obstacles to be overcome, and help create a more sustainable path into retirement that is good for them, for society and for the economy. And older employees agree. In a recent government survey, workers over 50 were pretty clear about what they need to stay longer in the workplace:
- 39% said they wanted employers to do more to support older workers
- 63% felt that companies should offer part-time roles
- 78% agreed that workplaces should offer flexible working patterns (such as variable start and finish times or the ability to work remotely)