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More over 50s not working due to sickness or disability

Emma Lunn
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Emma Lunn

Nearly 60% of ‘economically inactive’ people out of work due to long-term sickness or disability are aged 50 or over, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

There are nearly 511,000 extra people out of work due to long-term sickness since before the pandemic across all age groups – but 59% of those who are economically inactive due to long-term sickness are aged 50 or over.

According to Rest Less, which analysed the ONS figures, there are 1.6 million over 50s out of work due to long-term sickness, a 20% increase in the past three years (July to September 2019 compared with July to September 2022).

Rest Less’s analysis found that the number of economically inactive people aged 50+ due to long-term sickness increased from 1.35 million in July-September 2019 to 1.62m in the same time period in 2022 – an increase of 270,000 or 20%.

Rest Less found that more than one in three (38%) economically inactive 50 to 64-year-olds are out of work due to long-term sickness. Other common reasons for not working included retirement and looking after family.

‘A national health issue’

Stuart Lewis, chief executive of Rest Less, said: “Of the 2.8 million people out of work due to long-term sickness, nearly 60% are aged over 50. Not only is this a national health issue with thousands of people suffering silently, but it’s increasingly an economic issue too – not least because many of these people want to work in some capacity, if the right opportunities were available to them.

‘It’s time to provide targeted support to struggling businesses to enable them to offer more flexible working opportunities as well as high quality training programmes to ensure workers of all ages can continue to develop their career. Financial incentives to individuals and employers, such as reducing the age at which employer and employee National Insurance contributions are no longer payable at from 66 to 56 would also help encourage large-scale corporate investment in the hiring, training and retention of older workers.”

More support needed for over 50s

Kim Chaplain, specialist advisor for Work at the Centre for Ageing Better, said: “We welcome the increased political focus on the issue of economic inactivity among people over 50. These new stats make clear that long-term sickness is part of the challenge that the government needs to find solutions to.

“Among the thousands highlighted within the ONS stats, many are currently stuck within, or outside, of an employment support system that does not work for them. What we would like to see is a more responsive and joined up system of support linking health and employment support in a way tailored to the needs of older workers.

“Employers can play their part too by ensuring that they are offering workers the flexible work opportunities and the occupational health support that would give employees the opportunity to try and manage any health issues they might have within employment rather than having to manage their health full-time as long-term sick because they could not find the right balance in employment.”