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House of Commons Hansard
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21 November 2016
Volume 617
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1. What steps the Government are taking to give older workers the support they need to find or stay in work. [907331]

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7. What steps the Government are taking to give older workers the support they need to find or stay in work. [907337]

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May I, on behalf of the Government, echo the thoughts about Andy Murray? He is a great Scotsman who has made a great contribution.

There are more older people in employment than ever before, but we know that there is more to do. We recently appointed Andy Briggs, chief executive of Aviva UK, as business champion for older workers to promote the benefits they bring to employers.

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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. What more are the Government doing to build on the fuller working lives strategy that they launched in 2014?

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My hon. Friend is right to point out the importance of the fuller working lives strategy. We will be publishing a new strategy in the new year to build on the success of the fuller working lives strategy, and that will set out its future direction. I am particularly keen that it should be led by employers, because I think that employers are the best people to persuade other employers of the benefits of employing older workers. That is true for the employers themselves and for individuals, and it is particularly true for the public sector.

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Many older workers have caring responsibilities, which can make it hard for them to remain in work or even to return to work. What is the Secretary of State doing to encourage employers to work responsibly with those very valuable employees?

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I agree with my hon. Friend that those employees are often particularly responsible and have particular needs, if they have caring responsibilities. That is why the Government recognise the benefits of flexible working. We extended the right of workers to request flexible working from June 2014. We have also introduced older claimant champions in jobcentres, and we are working with employers to help to highlight the benefits of employing older workers. Aviva, which I have mentioned in the context of Andy Briggs, is launching a new pilot scheme this Friday specifically to support carers. I very much hope that other companies will follow its example.

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A year ago, Ministers committed to publishing an annual report on progress towards full employment, for the benefit of older workers and others. Does that commitment still stand, and if it does, when will the first of those annual reports be published?

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Yes, it does. We will be publishing one next year, and I am happy to report in the interim to the right hon. Gentleman that there are more older people in employment than ever before. There are 9.8 million workers aged 50-plus in the UK. That is an increase of 1.5 million over the last five years, and I think that that is one of the strengths of our labour market.

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But is it not true that there has been a relative decline in the proportion of older women in employment? Is the reason for that just the increase in the pension age, or is it that the Government are not providing the support for carers and the other things that enable older women to work?

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I am afraid I cannot agree with the right hon. Lady on that. Currently, there are 4.05 million women aged 50 to 64 in employment. That compares with just under 3.5 million five years ago. As a percentage, it has gone up from below 60% to more than 65%. The benefits of work for older people are being applied to women as well, and that, of course, gives them much more control over their own lives.

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On the question about carers, it is now seven months since the minimum wage was increased, but the income threshold for carer’s allowance has not risen in line with the minimum wage. Will the Secretary of State act to raise it by just £5 a week to ensure that carers are not forced to cut their hours because they are caught in this loophole?

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Notably in relation to older workers.

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Indeed. Carer’s allowance applies to people other than older workers, as you will be aware, Mr Speaker. The hon. Lady will also be aware that carer’s allowance was increased significantly at the most recent announcement. We keep all benefits under review.

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Older employees bring many benefits to employers, including turning up on time, taking pride in their appearance and passing on a wealth of life experience to their younger colleagues. We have national recognition schemes for innovation, technology and exports. Has the Secretary of State thought of introducing a national recognition scheme for those employers who employ a large number of older workers?

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As so often, my hon. Friend makes an innovative and good point. We work with employers to see what the best form of recognition is for employers who are particularly good at ensuring that older workers can carry on in the workforce, but I will certainly consider his suggestion.