Ageism ‘preventing jobless over-50s from getting back to work’

Mel Stride - Wiktor Szymanowicz/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Mel Stride - Wiktor Szymanowicz/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Ageism is stopping many of the country’s 3.6 million jobless over-50s from getting back into work, MPs have been told.

Experts said a new national push by ministers was needed to persuade companies that they should be hiring older workers.

They called for a new strategy to mobilise the over-50s workforce, saying it would slash the benefits bill and boost the economy.

Mel Stride, the Work and Pensions Secretary, is carrying out a review of how to get over-50s back into employment. He will report to the Treasury within weeks and could recommend a mixture of tax breaks and reforms to job support to target older workers.

There are 3.6 million people aged 50-64 who are classed as economically inactive, meaning they are neither in work nor looking for it. Of those, some 500,000 say they want to get a job but cannot currently do so for reasons such as long-term health problems.

Luke Price, of the Centre for Ageing Better, said those who do attempt to return come up against companies unwilling to hire older recruits.

“Older workers face quite a lot of ageism – there’s quite a lot of ageism in society generally,” he told the Commons work and pensions committee.

“We’ve done a lot of research looking at societal narratives and stereotypes that we see around older people but also older workers, and they can come up against those attitudes amongst employers and also amongst employment support providers.

“Because you constantly hear these ageist narratives and ideas about workers not being as productive or taking more sick leave – which are often based on negative stereotypes that aren’t true – you can start to believe these things, and people might start to believe that they’re past it.”

Peter Murphy, the director of Wise Age, an over-50s employment support charity, said ageism “is the big elephant in the room” in terms of getting older people back to work.

Mr Murphy told the committee that the challenge included “ageism of employers” and “internalised ageism which we need to address”, adding: “It’s a big issue because you’ve got really skilled people there who do the job just as well, who don’t get the job because their CV gives away the fact they’re of a certain age,”

The Government has hired dozens of “50-plus champions” who work with Job Centres “to change employer attitudes about hiring over-50s”.

MPs heard that two-thirds of 50 to 70-year-olds left their jobs earlier than they expected to during the pandemic. Some financially secure people chose to retire but “large groups had no choice” because they were either laid off or had health conditions or caring responsibilities.

A third of Covid redundancies were among the 50-64 age group, while younger workers who lost their jobs were twice as likely to have found new ones within six months.

Meanwhile, two out of five people who left employment during the pandemic had debts such as mortgages and credit cards, meaning they may need to find new income.

The committee also heard that the work from home culture posed a potential long-term sickness time bomb within the labour force.

Prof Kevin Bampton, chief executive of the British Occupational Hygiene Society, said the trend could unleash a wave of back and neck injuries because people are “not going to be using proper equipment”, adding: “I think we might be storing up a mental and physical health problem through distance working.”