Support for older workers

More support needed for health at work post-pandemic if state pension age is to rise

New research by the Centre for Ageing Better and the Institute for Employment Studies has highlighted the challenges faced by employees with long-term health conditions, warning that more support is needed to help people manage their conditions in the workplace if the state pension is to rise further. With one in three workers now over the age of fifty, and one in five men and women aged 50-54 managing at least one long-term condition, poor health is by far the most common reason for people aged 50-64 to leave work prematurely. The Centre for Ageing Better says more action is needed to prevent people falling out of the workforce before they reach state pension age due to poor health.

The new report, ‘Working Well? How the pandemic changed work for people with health conditions,’ found that the pandemic has widened the gap between good and bad employment, with employees with health conditions struggling with a lack of support and poor line-management. While those who were given the right support to manage health conditions at work remained resilient, those who were not faced additional challenges.

In addition, those out-of-work worried that ageism and ableism would make finding work in a competitive job market even more of a challenge. One participant in the research said: “I think it’s very hard to get a job at the minute. Especially as I’m not a young kid that’s fit and can just do anything…it limits me for what I can apply for…and I just think there are going to be a lot of people better qualified than me.”

For the report, researchers followed the journey of twenty people aged 50 and over with some of the common conditions which cause disability among people in their 50s and 60s. These include musculoskeletal conditions like arthritis, mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression, and neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease. Over a quarter of women aged 55-64, and one in five men, have a musculoskeletal condition, while half of over-55s have experienced mental health problems.

The Centre for Ageing Better warns that if the state Pension Age is to rise further according to government plans, it is vital that more is done to support employees to manage health conditions in the workplace. Other new research released last week by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Centre for Ageing Better found that workers with long-term health conditions are almost 5 percentage points less likely to still be in work in a year’s time compared to their peers without health conditions. However, if they do fall out of work, they are more likely to become unemployed rather than retire.

Today’s report calls for the government to introduce the promised Employment Bill, which was dropped from the Queen’s Speech. It says the Bill should guarantee the right to request flexible working from day one, and introduce a single-enforcement body for employment rights.

“People with health conditions need the right support at work if they are to get back to work following the end of furlough or to continue to remain in fulfilling work into later life,” says Anna Dixon, chief executive, Centre for Ageing Better. “For those who don’t feel understood or supported at work, the work environment can be challenging and their welfare suffers as a result.
“We know that long-term conditions are one of the main reasons why people in their 50s and 60s drop out of the labour market early. As the average age of the workforce increases, there is a risk that more and more people will  stop working many years before they are able to claim their state pension – with negative impacts on their finances and the wider economy.

“If the government presses ahead with planned increases to the state pension age, more must be done to support those managing health conditions at work,” she adds. “Government must bring the Employment Bill before parliament without further delay to improve flexibility and strengthen rights at work. Employers must invest in line-management training, and ensure that the workplace culture is inclusive and supportive.”

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