THE TUC HAS WARNED that hundreds of thousands of older workers are being “consigned to poverty” due to ill health.  A new report published by the union body shows that one in eight (12 per cent) men and women are forced to stop working before state pension age due to ill-health or disability. 

The report, Extending working lives: how to support older workers, finds that more than half a million (534,876) workers aged 60 to 65 have had to leave the workplace due to medical reasons.

The report reveals a stark income and class divide. People who left the labour market early while working in low-income jobs such as cleaning, care and manual labour, were six times more likely to quit due to medical reasons than those in higher-paid jobs.

One in three low-paid workers who left their jobs before state pension age did so because of ill health. By contrast, just one in 20 professionals who left the labour market early did so because of long-term sickness.  

The analysis also shows clear regional disparities. In the South West of England and the West Midlands one in 12 people aged 60 to 66 have left work due to long-term sickness or disability.

But this rises to:

  • one in seven in Yorkshire and the Humber and Wales
  •  one in six the North East
  • one in five in Northern Ireland

The TUC says this reflects huge health inequalities across the regions and nations of the UK, Plans to raise the state pension age while the healthy life expectancy gap between rich and poor areas is growing would deepen inequalities further, it says.

Healthy life expectancy for women in the most deprived parts of the country is falling, and if the scheduled increases go ahead, by the end of the decade they can expect more than 16 years of ill health before they can draw their state pension.

The TUC is calling on the government to urgently work with unions and employers on developing training programmes for older workers. Older workers who lose their jobs as a result of the pandemic will face greater barriers getting back into work, warns the union body.

And they are twice as likely as younger workers to become long-term unemployed. The union body says that those in physically intensive jobs need help retraining so they can extend their working lives.

The TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “People should be able to retire in dignity with a decent pension when the time is right. But many older workers are being forced to stop work earlier due to ill health. They must not be consigned to years of poverty.

“The government should stop plans for further rises in the pension age and focus on improving support for people who are too ill to work. And it should tackle the health inequalities that are causing it. With healthy life expectancy falling for women in poorer areas ministers need to reverse this alarming trend – not make them wait even longer for their pension.”

On the need to provide retraining she added: “Older workers have a crucial role to play in the labour market. But like everyone else they need access to decent training. This is especially important as we emerge from this pandemic. Many older staff are at risk of losing their jobs and we know they face extra barriers getting back into work.”

The TUC is calling for:

Short term

  • Support for older workers who lose their jobs because of the economic impact of Covid-19. This should include wage subsidies for good quality, new jobs and funded training opportunities.

Long term

  • More support to help workers who need or choose to work later in life. This should include access to training, a ‘mid-career MOT’, and better rights to work flexibly.
  • Planned increases to the state pension age to be shelved.  And a cross-party commission to establish a new consensus on the state pension age that takes into account trends in longevity improvements across the population.
  • Reform to the social security system so that it provides an adequate safety net for workers of all ages, and with increased flexibility around how retirement age benefits are accessed.

* Read the report here.

* Source: Trades Union Congress