Record rates of over 50s quit work

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UK workplaces are facing a silver exodus as official figures show thousands of older workers are leaving the job market due to stress or long-term sickness.

Employers and the government need to do more to retain them, argues the TUC in a new report.

According to data released on 14 March by the ONS, the proportion of people in work between the ages of 50 and 70 dropped by nearly a third in quarters 2 and 3 of 2021 when compared to the same periods in 2019.

Out of over half a million, or 522,000 people, who were out of work in October to December 2021, 94 per cent were aged 50 and over. 

Customer service workers are among those seeing the sharpest increases in the number of over-50s leaving their positions due to poor health. Photograph: iStock

The ONS sampled responses of 13,803 individuals between 50 and 70 years old, all who had either left work since the pandemic or before it.

While retirement was the most common reason given for leaving work by both those in their 50s and 60s, those in their 50s were significantly more likely to give stress or mental health reasons (19 per cent) than those aged 60 years and over (5 per cent).

One respondent reported: “I no longer had any job satisfaction, and felt physically and mentally exhausted, with many stress-related physical manifestations.”

Fiftysomethings were also more likely to report having left work for a change in lifestyle (14 per cent), compared to those aged 60 years and over (7 per cent). And a significant proportion said they left work due to a long-term sickness or disability (34 percent) or caring responsibilities (13 percent).

“People aged over 50 years have seen an increasing trend in economic inactivity throughout the pandemic, the only age group to do so,” said the ONS. “It has bucked a historical downward trend.”

The TUC in its recent report calls for stronger rights to help older workers stay in work and for better support from employers.

Giving stronger rights to flexible and home working to this demographic would benefit those managing long-term health conditions or needing to reduce their workload, it argues.

Employers must also take all steps they can to ensure they comply with their proactive duty to implement reasonable adjustments for disabled workers.

Paid time off for learning and training for all workers to encourage lifelong learning should be enshrined as a new right. 

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady added the government must stop plans for further rises in the pension age – a rise to 67 years by 2028, up from 66 years – and focus on improving support for people who are being forced out of work by ill health.

She said: “That should include providing all workers with a mid-life skills review, and putting in place the reasonable adjustments and flexible working people need to stay in work. 

“And government must tackle the structural inequalities that are forcing BME and low-income older workers out of the labour market before retirement age.” 

Older workers after the pandemic: creating an inclusive labour market TUC report here 


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