What might get over-50s back into work?

Date : 03 March 2022

Last year, IGD researched labour in the UK food and consumer goods supply chain – we identified high “churn” as a persistent issue, with COVID-19 and departure of EU workers exacerbating long-standing challenges.

Some contacts noted that workers – especially older workers – had been prompted to change their lifestyles as a result of COVID. Research from other source has now expanded our knowledge on this issue.

IMF’s latest update, states the UK economy has a persistent issue with poor participation of the older working population (over-50s). ONS has released initial findings as to why this may be.

The economic inactivity* rate for those aged 50 – 64 has increased by 1.5% to 26.9% since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, amounting to around 200,000 people.

This will be of concern to policy makers - vacancies across the total economy are at record highs of nearly 1.3 million. Also, premature departure of workers from the economy suggests unnecessary loss of valuable experience and knowledge.

Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic was the critical driver (15%) in encouraging over-50s out of the workplace. A further 13% left due to illness or disability and 10% left due to mental wellbeing issues. Long NHS waiting lists suggest that these individuals may need to wait a long time for treatment.

13% of employees left jobs in human health and social work activities, whilst 12% left work in wholesale and retail trade. Coupled with the considerable numbers of migrant workers that have left due to EU Exit, a significant portion of the food and consumer goods industry workforce is no longer available. These two factors go some way in explaining the critical labour shortages that have affected parts of the industry.

There are considerable barriers for policymakers and employers looking to tempt people back into the workplace. Only 39% of those who have left work would consider returning. Of those, most likely to return, between the ages of 50 and 60, 38% will not consider returning to work in the future.

Of those adults that would consider working in the future, 54% said it would be for social company or a job that was enjoyable, whilst 52% suggested they would return for the money.

Unfortunately, IGD research found that many roles in the food and consumer goods industry are currently seen as poorly paid, low status or requiring intense physical effort.

This roles may not, therefore, be seen as tempting by older candidates but many employers have invested in improving conditions and pay in order to remain competitive in a tough labour market.

* Economic inactivity is defined by ONS as “people who are not in work, who have not sought work in the last 4 weeks and / or are unable to start work in the next 2 weeks”.

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