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Joanne Sawyer
Equality and Human Rights Policy Adviser at Age UK
Joanne Sawyer

Older workers with health conditions: supporting people in work and planning for retirement

Authors: Joanne Sawyer Equality and Human Rights Policy Adviser at Age UK

22 July 2015

The UK workforce is ageing. As examined in The Work Foundation report, Living long, working well, being able to work longer is one way for people to ensure that they have a healthier future with adequate income in retirement.

Current position and future outlook

Demographic change means that by 2022 there will be 700,000 fewer workers aged 16 to 49 compared to 3.7 million aged between 50 and state pension age. We are already seeing more older workers (those aged 50+) in the labour market and a fall in the proportion of older workers who are unemployed.

However, the picture for older workers is not universally rosy. Older people who are out of work face significant barriers in the labour market. They typically spend longer unemployed than their younger counterparts, are more likely to be long-term unemployed and are more likely to claim benefits for a health condition or disability. Age itself is a barrier to returning to work, but when health conditions or caring responsibilities are added to the mix, the position for older workers becomes even more difficult.

What Government and service providers can do

Age UK believes that the Government and service providers can do more to support older workers with health conditions to stay in or return to work, by:

  • Extending the right to request flexible working  from day one, and by ensuring that all jobs are flexible by default by 2020.
  • Reforming the Work Programme to ensure it better meets the needs of older participants, especially those with health conditions, for example by creating a separate payment group for the over 50s.
  • Offering support through Jobcentre Plus (JCP) from day one of a benefit claim to older jobseekers and ensuring that support is better tailored to individual needs.
  • Engaging with employers to promote good age-management practices including health management and flexible working, through the new Fit for Work Service.

The role of employers

Employers are a vital part of the jigsaw too. A number of employers are already developing initiatives which aim to support older colleagues, including those with health conditions, to stay in work.

At Age UK we have recently developed an Extending Working Life and Planning for Retirement proposition for our staff. Almost half of our workforce is aged 50 and over, and over two thirds are aged 40 and over. This has led us to develop this proposition which includes:

  • Health and wellbeing – as work is generally good for physical and mental health and wellbeing, Age UK aims to enable employees to feel well at work, with initiatives designed specifically for mid-life and older workers (e.g. health assessments and wellbeing champions);
  • Policies – enabling employees to alter their working patterns or work responsibilities when considering or approaching retirement in order to ensure that employment can continue for as long as possible;
  • Learning opportunities – both for employees in their later working lives and also by utilising the expertise of older workers to support others in their careers (e.g. through career planning conversations, mid-life reviews, coaching and mentoring);
  • Financial planning and pension clinics – providing support and information on the financial implications of extending working life and planning for retirement;
  • Encouraging older workers to support Age UK’s volunteer programmes.

Age UK’s aim for our colleagues is to inspire, enable and support them to continue their working lives and to plan for starting a healthy and financially secure retirement, with choice, flexibility and control. It is also our aspiration for older workers more generally.

Age UK have developed a number of helpful reports and guides which can be accessed below: