The Physiological Society’s policy team on the health challenges facing older workers and the urgent need to develop a strategy to ensure older people are happy and healthy at work.
Why Does the UK Need an Ageing Workforce Strategy?
24 Jan 2023
The ‘exodus’ of over 50s from the labour force following the COVID-19 pandemic has shown a light on the longstanding impact of poor health on the economic activity of older workers. An increasing number of older people are leaving the workforce before state pension age and becoming economically inactive (neither in work nor actively searching for work). The UK is unique in this aspect, no other high-income country has seen a comparable sustained rise in over 50s remaining economically inactive since the start of the pandemic.
Poor health is one of the main drivers of this rise in economic inactivity among the over 50s. As data from our report Understanding ‘Early Exiters’: The case for a healthy ageing workforce strategy notes, compared to before the pandemic, there are around 100,000 more people aged 50-64 who say they are not in work because of a long-term health condition. Long-term ill health is the single most common reason for not working among this age group. There are also a wide range of health conditions affecting people, with cardiovascular and mental health issues being on the rise in older people who are economically inactive, according to data by the Health Foundation.
This rise in economic inactivity among over 50s has contributed to higher vacancies and labour shortages in 2022. Coordinating our response to reversing the trends of economic inactivity among older people led to our call to develop an Ageing Workforce Strategy. This coordinated approach will be crucial to boost the UK’s economic growth. As such, we propose that this National Ageing Workforce Strategy should focus on four key aspects:
- Older people with health conditions should be supported to continue working such as through access to better occupation health services and simple evidence-based employer guidelines.
- Older people with health conditions should be helped to return to work by ensuring that job design and recruitment practices are age-inclusive and accessible to older people with health conditions.
- Medium-term prevention of poor health by improving the quality and design of work and the workplace so that they support older workers’ health.
- Long-term prevention of ill health and disease by improving public health over the course of people’s lives, and by advancing physiological and scientific research on ageing.
Economic growth will be central to policy making in the years ahead, as emphasised by both the Government and Opposition. Further, Long-term demographic changes mean that, should this ‘exodus’ continue, the issue of an ageing workforce will become even more important as the UK’s population ages in future decades and tax rises, spending cuts or additional borrowing will have to occur in the absence of economic growth. Thus, it is vital we develop an Ageing Workforce Strategy to ensure that older people are able to stay happy and healthy at work. Reducing the link between ageing and ill health is crucial for the UK’s long-term prosperity and physiological insight and research has a key role to play.
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