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The need to value and retain older workers

12 August 2011

One consequence of the global ageing phenomenon is shrinking workforce numbers, especially in the developed world and in the United Kingdom; the recession has exacerbated this in no uncertain terms, especially when it comes to the over-50s.

Disturbing new figures just released reveal that the number of older workers trapped in a spiral of joblessness has soared by more than 50 per cent in a year to the highest figure in a decade, with a total of 170,000 job-seekers over 50 having been out of work for at least 12 months across the UK.

Older workers have been the biggest victims of a recession panic that saw businesses slash costs by getting rid of long-serving and, most significantly, more expensive staff, with those who were unfortunate enough to lose their job in their 50s basically regarded as over the hill.

The 170,000 total is up by around 57,000 in a year, creating a generation of would-be workers who will struggle to find a full-time job ever again and can expect the coming decades to be characterised by a battle to cover essential bills. The figures seem to support claims of widespread prejudice against older workers, who are unfairly seen as slow and unable to keep up with new technology.

Age Scotland believes the emphasis must immediately shift to ways of keeping older workers in the job market, retaining their experience, providing stability to the workplace and averting the negative impact on national productivity. Charity spokesman Lindsay Scott says:

"The Equality Act of 2010 provides protection against age discrimination in employment, but it doesn't seem to be having the desired effect.

"These revelations make a mockery of the abolition of the default retirement age and pledges to allow people to work on into their 70s if they so choose. They are very much at odds with the Coalition Government's rosy picture of a future where older people continue working for as long as they like.

"The harsh reality is that the many older workers have been taken out of the workforce and jobs simply don't exist for them to take up, should they want or need to get back into employment.

"A smart employer would see the high numbers of unemployed at each end of the age range as an opportunity to match old heads with youthful enthusiasm by taking on an older worker for every few youngsters wherever possible.

"Employers of all shapes and sizes need to wake up to the fact that an increasing number of people will need to work longer and that extending working lives will not succeed unless there is a long overdue shift in culture."