Number of unemployed over-50s surges in ‘silver exodus’ from UK workplaces

Despite rise in job vacancies, 3.6 million Britons aged 50-64 are now economically inactive, in trend seen since pandemic

The number of people aged 50-64 who are economically inactive in the UK has shot up to 3.6 million. It represents a rise of almost 10% since before the pandemic, providing powerful evidence of a post-Covid “silver exodus” from the workplace.

Other findings released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) last week – and seized upon by Labour as a sign of government failure at a time of near-record vacancies and labour shortages – include data showing that 375,000 over-50s were claiming unemployment benefits last month.

This total of over-50s in receipt of state help while looking for work has risen by 65,000 on the month immediately prior to the pandemic, and comes when job vacancies stood at over 1.274m.

The total of 375,000 over-50s on unemployment benefit is also 173,000 higher than five years ago. Among those who are 16-64 and classed as economically inactive, 20% (1.7 million people) want a job. The ONS’s Over-50s Lifestyle Study published in March found that 39% of those who left work or lost their job during the pandemic would consider returning to paid work in the future, with those in their 50s almost twice as likely to consider this (58%) than those aged 60 and over (31%). There were no significant differences between men and women.

Last night the shadow work and pensions secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said that the latest data proved the need for radical reform of government assistance in helping people who want work to find employment as quickly as possibly.

“We’re in a cost of living crisis, with employers struggling to fill vacancies, yet ministers have sat back and allowed the workforce to shrink since the pandemic,” he said.

“The staggering increase in those out of work and ‘economically inactive’ under the Tories is the worst among G7 countries. And now with the Bank of England projecting a recession and a sharp increase in unemployment, reforming job support is an urgent and pressing priority to help grow our economy, help people into work and secure living standards.”

If Labour forms the next government, Ashworth wants to concentrate on providing much more specialist help, including for all over-50s and the long-term sick who are intent on returning to the workplace.

This will focus on the underlying causes of worklessness: ill health, including mental ill health, as well as lack of flexibility in the workplace and inadequate and poorly targeted employment support. Labour says the government’s “Plan for jobs”’ – schemes to get people into work – is expected to underspend by £2bn because of policy failures that have left money unused.

Research by Ashworth’s team shows that 77 constituencies have seen a 50% or higher increase in the number of over-50s claiming unemployment compared to pre-pandemic.

The Department for Work and Pensions said: “During the pandemic, we supported over half a million jobseekers aged 50 and over through our 50 Plus Choices offer, and there are currently 267,000 fewer people of this age range on benefits than at the highest point in the pandemic.

“We are investing an extra £22m to tackle unemployment among over-50s. That investment is paying off, as last month over 190,000 more 50- to 64-year-olds joined company payrolls, and 2 million more workers [aged] 50 and over are in work than in 2010.”