Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
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Fundamental changes to employment policies proposed to benefit older workers

Commission outlines changes to address ageing workforce

The Commission is today launching a set of proposals for fundamental changes to employment policies to open up more work opportunities for older Britons and address the challenges of an ageing workforce.

The proposals include abolishing the default retirement age, the extension of the right to request flexible working to all, overhauling employer recruitment practices to prevent discrimination and improved training and development. It comes as the Lords today have the opportunity to remove the default retirement age through the Equality Bill.

The economy would be the big winner from the Commission’s policy. Research from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research shows that extending working lives by 18 months would inject £15 billion into the British economy.

The initiative coincides with the release of a new survey carried out for the Commission into older workers’ aspirations, barriers they face and potential solutions to these. The results show that the majority of this group believes major changes are needed to attitudes and policies if they are to reach their goals*.

Twenty-four per cent of men and 64 per cent of women say they plan to keep working beyond the state pension age**. Most older Britons do not want to slow down, many want job promotions and others wish to work well beyond the state pension age.

However, structural barriers and outdated stereotypes are forcing people out of work early. While Commission research shows employers are offering lower level, part-time work to over 50 year olds, twice as many older workers want a job promotion compared to those that want to down shift.

Older workers told the Commission that flexibility in hours and locations was crucial to keeping them in the workforce longer as they aimed to balance caring responsibilities and health needs with work. Eighty-five per cent of people not working and over the state pension age say greater availability of part-time or flexible jobs would help them gain a job.

Financial necessity is the most important reason to continue working. Many want to stay working for their current employers, pointing to an opportunity for employers to create a loyal workforce.

The policy, part of the Commission’s Working Better initiative, aims to address the chronic under employment, low-paid employment and low income experienced by older Britons.

The Commission will be working closely with employers to develop guidance for organisations to implement non-discriminatory recruitment practices.

The Commission believes these proposed changes will boost the economy, increase flexibility for employers and employees, improve the health of older workers, increase productivity and reduce the financial costs to government in supporting older Britons***.

Baroness Margaret Prosser, Deputy Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

“This is about developing a way of working that is based on the demographics of today’s populations and moving away from systems established when people died not long after reaching state pension age and women were supported by their husbands.

“Radical change is what older Britons are telling us needs to happen for them to stay in the workforce. Employers with a focus on recruiting and retaining older workers on flexible working arrangements are telling us it makes good business sense, allowing them to recruit and retain talent while meeting the flexible needs of their customers.

“Britain has experienced a skills exodus during the recession and as the economy recovers we face a very real threat of not having enough workers - a problem that is further exacerbated by the skills lost by many older workers being forced to retire at 65.

“Keeping older Britons healthy and in the workforce also benefits the economy more broadly by decreasing welfare costs and increasing the spending power of older Britons.

 “Our research shows that to provide real opportunity to older workers, abolishing the default retirement age needs to be accompanied by a concerted drive by government, employers and agencies to meet the health, caring and work needs of the over-50s to enable them to remain in the workplace. Greater flexibility can help to deliver this.”

Notes to editors

The Commission is today launching Older workers: employment preferences, barriers and solutions by Deborah Smeaton, Sandra Vegeris and Melahat Sahin-Dikmen and Working Better: The over 50s, the new work generation.

Survey results from those aged 50-75:

  • Fifty-five per cent say they are unhappy with some aspect of their working lives.
  • Asked about barriers to their ideal job, half say the availability of part-time or flexible work would help them.
  • Responsibility for children continues, with nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of 56 to 59 year-olds and nine per cent of 70 to 75-year-olds still supporting their children financially.
  • Almost two in five men (38 per cent) and 46 per cent of women are not aware of the right to request flexible working available to adult carers.
  • People in fair and poor health or with a disability were much less satisfied with their working hours than other workers.
  • Among the unemployed who want to work, 37 per cent of men and 50 per cent of women say they need flexible arrangements to enable their transition back into work.
  • Three out of five older workers say they are as physically capable now to perform their jobs as when younger.

*A total of 1,494 men and women aged 50 to 75 across Great Britain took part in the survey.

**State pension age is currently 60 for women and 65 for men. It will rise to 65 for both men and women by 2020.

***Just Ageing? Research at www.equalityhumanrights.com/justageing

The Equality and Human Rights Commission

The Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals. 

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