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Older People (Employment Support)

Volume 523: debated on Monday 14 February 2011

People are living longer, healthier lives, which is good news. The state pension age, as the hon. Gentleman has heard, is set to increase over the coming years. I believe that older workers bring a wealth of talent and enterprise, which we should welcome. From April, jobcentres will have more flexibility to help older people, but the key thing is that in getting rid of the default retirement age, we will strike a blow for older people, which should be welcomed.

Notwithstanding the excellent work carried out by organisations such as the Shaw Trust in my constituency, which helps people with disabilities into the labour market, the Office for National Statistics has found that the number of retired people aged under 65 increased by 39,000 between September and November on the previous quarter. Does the Secretary of State share the concerns of Ros Altmann, the director-general of the Saga group, who said that the Government risk consigning older people to unemployment benefit by increasing the retirement age in such a tough jobs market?

I believe not that Ros Altmann is materially wrong, but that the jobs market will improve. That improvement will create greater incentives for people. People have a tendency to think that it is a simple fact that older people entering the work force somehow take jobs away from younger people, but there is no evidence internationally that that happens. The reality, in fact, is that older people staying in the work force increases work flexibility and improves the number of jobs that are available, and helps younger people. The Government have done a lot for pensioners, and we will do more, but ending the default retirement age is about giving older people the right to work for longer, and the responsibility to employers to deal with them as human beings and not just figures on a piece of paper.

As part of a back-to-work programme provided by A4e, one of my constituents, who was a senior building site manager, was asked to add £1 to £4.75, which he did not feel was particularly constructive in helping him to get back to work. When will we move away from that one-size-fits-all back-to-work programme?

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State is doing that just now. The Work programme will be tailored to people’s needs and not implemented flatly. If people have a problem, the programme will deal with them. Jobcentres will be given more flexibility to ensure that they match employment to the person as necessary. My hon. Friend should therefore welcome the changes that we are making.