As a society, we must better recognise that “work” does not just provide people with financial rewards but also important social benefits, and helps contribute to a healthier and happier later life.
Figures shared recently by pensions minister Baroness Altmann show that only half of the population aged 50-64 are still in work in some parts of the country. Many are not leaving because they feel rich - but because they feel pressured to or are unable to continue their work.
We know that helping people stay in work will have economic benefits: reducing welfare costs, increasing tax revenue to government, and ensuring individuals have better savings for later life. However the social implications of work are too often ignored.
We recently launched a major study, Later Life in 2015, conducted in partnership with Ipsos MORI, which highlighted the interrelated importance of health, finance and strong social connections for a happy and fulfilled later life.
Work sits at the centre of these. Not only does it help financially but work also creates social connections with colleagues and customers, and provides a sense of purpose. In addition, the NHS Consensus Statement from Healthcare Professionals shows that work which is appropriate and undertaken in a safe and supportive environment promotes good physical and mental health.
Conversely, being out of work means people not only struggle financially but may also become socially isolated. Those out of work are also likely to have more problems with their health - for many, ill health is one of the reasons why they are out of work.
We believe that enabling people aged 50 years and over to stay in work is critical for a good later life and have prioritised it as one of our first areas of collaborative action. We want to help the one million people who are “involuntarily workless” and have been pushed out of their job through a combination of redundancy, ill health, early retirement, caring for others and ageism.
Employment for over 50s will require a change in attitude and action from employers. There are benefits for them of keeping experience and knowledge in their organisation as well as people who understand a growing customer segment.
In addition, employees will need to learn how they can actively prepare for a longer working life and be confident in taking proactive steps. Individuals in their 40s should be thinking about their ability and desire to do the same job for another 25-30 years, and how they can develop the skills that match their aspirations. Initiatives such as Mid Life Career Reviews have already been trialled and we may see further uptake in the future.
However, more also needs to be done to support people who are 50 years and over back into work. While there are small scale initiatives in the voluntary sector, the funding and incentives currently available means most providers of The Work Programme do not focus on this age group.
The case is clear. If we are to give everyone a chance of a good later life, our approach to employment must fundamentally change.