Over 50s forced out of work despite warnings of looming staff shortfall

There are calls for businesses to deliver greater support to the over 50s and new research found one in ten people aged between 50 and state pension age do not work but want to.

A decade ago, the International Longevity Centre (ILC), the UK’s leading authority on demographic change, reported on the “missing million” – people over 50 pushed out of their previous job because of ‘shocks’, a combination of redundancy, ill health, or early retirement. Today, over a million are still missing from the workforce.

David Sinclair, Chief Executive at the International Longevity Centre UK said:

“Work is a good thing. Meaningful activity, whether paid or voluntary, keeps us connected and gives us purpose. However, too much of what we do for work does not add value to us as individuals or to society. And work without purpose is basically pointless.

“We need to make work more attractive and accessible to more people. And we need more than headline-grabbing, sticking plaster solutions to address poor mental and physical health and get people back to work. Patterns of work are changing and so are our attitudes to what’s most important for our working lives. Technology has already made a massive difference to the world of work and will continue to do so. The question is whether we can harness these changes to our benefit.”

“When we highlighted the “missing million” in our 2014 report we called for action. But our latest analysis shows that while millions of over 50s would like to work they are still not receiving the help they need to get back into the workplace.”

The research, which was supported by insurer Aviva, found in 2023, nearly one in ten people (9.54%) over 50 but not yet at pensionable age left work involuntarily. Rates of involuntary exit from work start rising around age 40 and are highest among people in their late 50s and early 60s.

In the “Good job?” briefing published, the second in the series of briefings being released as part of work to develop a new “Longevity White Paper”, the ILC highlights that the failure to act to support longer working lives means that millions of over 50s are being forced from their jobs due to circumstances beyond their control.

Demographic change will drive a 2.6 million shortfall of paid workers by 2030 and almost every sector of our economy is facing skills shortages. A decreasing proportion of us are aged between 18 and the State Pension Age (SPA) and an increasing number of us are over 66. So, despite not having a mandatory retirement age in the UK, we still see a dramatic work exodus at SPA.

Previous ILC research has also shown:

  • Two in five adults are economically inactive – 2.5 million of these due to long-term sickness, and their numbers have risen alarmingly (by almost half a million since 2019). There are now only 1.7 economically active workers for each inactive adult aged 16+.
  • 2% of people are underemployed – they’d like to work more than they do. People in the UK work, on average, for, just 31.5 years of their lives.
  • Migration is not the silver bullet solution either. For instance, even with higher migration, the social care sector could face a shortfall of one million workers by 2037.

Doug Brown, CEO of Aviva UK & Ireland Life said: “These findings highlight the structural issues of hiring and retaining over 50s workers. While the government announced a £70 million investment to support over 50s staying in or getting back to work in its 2023 Spring Budget, employers have a big role to play in improving outcomes for this age group.

“The good news is that there is momentum and support from UK employers. Our Working Lives research3 found that in the last year, one in ten (10%) employers have for the first time introduced support for retaining over 50s employees. Furthermore, three-quarters (76%) of employers think that it is important to retain employees aged over 50, with a third (32%) saying it is very important.

“Over 50s workers can be a great asset to an organisation, bringing experience and skills honed over decades. It is important that employers are flexible and attentive to their specific needs. Retention rates can be improved through apprenticeship programmes, which offer an opportunity to re-skill, and ‘mid-life MOTs,’ which are a free check-up of your wealth, work, and wellbeing. Other options such as job-sharing or ‘part-tirement’ may be useful in attracting and retaining the missing million.”