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Thousands of older workers ‘consigned to poverty’

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

A Trades Union Congress (TUC) report found that one in eight people are forced out of the labour market due to ill health before state pension age.

The report – Extending working lives: how to support older workers – found that people in low-income jobs far more likely to have to stop work early due to medical reasons, and that hiking the state pension age risks making the inequalities worse.

It found that more than half a million (534,876) workers aged 60 to 65 have had to leave the workplace due to medical reasons. As a result, the TUC is calling for urgent training opportunities for older workers with many at risk of redundancy from the pandemic.

Low-paid hit hardest

The report reveals a stark income and class divide. People who left the labour market early while working in low-income jobs – like cleaning, care and manual labour – were six times more likely to quit due to medical reasons than those in higher-paid jobs.

One in three low-paid workers who left their jobs before state pension age did so because of ill health. By contrast, just one in 20 professionals who left the labour market early did so because of long-term sickness.

Stark regional divide

The analysis also shows clear regional disparities. In the South West of England and the West Midlands, one in 12 people aged 60 to 66 have left work due to long-term sickness or disability.

But this rises to one in seven in Yorkshire and the Humber and Wales, one in six in the North East, and one in five in Northern Ireland.

The TUC says this reflects huge health inequalities across the regions and nations of the UK. The union warned that plans to hike to the state pension age while the healthy life expectancy gap between rich and poor areas is growing would deepen inequalities further.

Healthy life expectancy for women in the most deprived parts of the country is falling, and if the scheduled increases go ahead, by the end of the decade they can expect more than 16 years of ill health before they can draw their state pension.

Lack of training opportunities

The TUC is calling on the government to urgently work with unions and employers on developing training programmes for older workers.

It warned that older workers who lose their jobs as a result of the pandemic will face greater barriers getting back into work. And they are twice as likely as younger workers to become long-term unemployed.

Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, said: “People should be able to retire in dignity with a decent pension when the time is right. But many older workers are being forced to stop work earlier due to ill health. They must not be consigned to years of poverty.

“The government should stop plans for further rises in the pension age and focus on improving support for people who are too ill to work. And tackle the health inequalities that are causing it

“With healthy life expectancy falling for women in poorer areas ministers need to reverse this alarming trend – not make them wait even longer for their pension.

“Older workers have a crucial role to play in the labour market. But like everyone else they need access to decent training. This is especially important as we emerge from this pandemic. Many older staff are at risk of losing their jobs and we know they face extra barriers getting back into work.”