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Unemployment: Over-50s

Volume 810: debated on Tuesday 9 March 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to address the number of unemployed people over the age of 50.

Our Plan for Jobs package provides funding to ensure that more people, including those aged 50 and over, get tailored Jobcentre Plus support to help them find work and build the skills that they need to get into work. As part of the Jobcentre Plus offer for over-50s, we are also providing dedicated support through 50-plus champions and mentoring circles to ensure that they fully benefit from the Plan for Jobs package and existing Jobcentre Plus support.

My Lords, the Government’s schemes, though, just do not seem to work. One scheme had the worst outturn, with just one in five being successful. In the past 12 months, the number of unemployed over-50s has gone up by a third, which is significantly more than any other group. This is partly because many employers prefer more technologically skilled younger people, who may come cheaper, perhaps with government money. This over-50s group requires specific, updated back-to-work support using their knowledge and experience. Will the Government be much more specific and give them that support?

I would like to speak to the noble Lord outside the Chamber about the statistics that he raises because they do not resonate with those that I have. I can only say to him that the support that over-50s are getting through the Jobcentre Plus network builds on their existing skills base and is doing everything possible to get them back into the labour market.

I am sure that the Minister will know that one in five people over 50 provide unpaid care to a family member or friend. These caring responsibilities have a significant impact on their ability to work, leaving many outside the labour market. Of course, the pandemic has exacerbated this situation. What support can the Government provide to help older carers return to work and juggle work with their caring responsibilities, on which social care so much depends?

To help and support carers to remain in work or return to work, we have been working with employer organisations, the CIPD, the British Chambers of Commerce and LEPs to host a series of webinars, with content delivered by the business champion for older workers. We absolutely agree with the noble Baroness about the role that carers play. We want flexibility from employers, flexibility in hours and flexibility in the roles that those people can provide.

My Lords, older workers have valuable experience and life skills but are twice as likely as younger workers to be out of work for 12 months or more. What opportunities for financially supported training and education will the Government make available to this age group to enable them to develop their skills and, if necessary, change their career paths?

Again, the noble Baroness makes an important point about the value that older workers can add to the workforce. The UK Government are investing £2.5 billion in the national skills fund to aid the lifetime skills guarantee. This is a great opportunity for older workers.

My Lords, the fact is that many people need to work for longer, but workers aged 50-plus still face barriers to accessing work and training. What extra government support is there particularly for smaller and medium-sized businesses to help them to offer employment to older people who are disabled?

I am pleased to report that the Government have appointed Andy Briggs as business champion for older workers to spearhead the Government’s work to support employers to retain, retrain and recruit older workers, including the disabled.

My Lords, as the Minister well knows, the over-50s who have lost their jobs during the pandemic are at a serious risk of long-term unemployment, at huge cost to themselves but also to the taxpayer. Have the Government considered creating an over-50s Kickstart scheme—it is an excellent scheme for young people—encouraging employers to create jobs but also providing retraining for older workers who might well benefit from it?

That is a great idea. I will take it back to the department because I can promise the whole House that our Secretary of State and our team are looking at innovative ways to get people back into work.

My Lords, to build on that, the pandemic has certainly caused job losses for older people and led to people retiring early, or indeed delaying retirement. That hurts those individuals and their families, but it also affects the labour supply and the pensions landscape. It is a big public policy issue. Have Ministers considered developing a focused strategy, with ring-fenced funding and targeted interventions, and perhaps adapted conditionality for older workers?

In respect of conditionality and targeted support, the work that we are doing through the work coaches is tailored and individual. We are using the conditionality rules as compassionately and sensibly as we can.

My Lords, as has been indicated, over-50s are twice as likely as the rest of the population to stay unemployed, once unemployed, for more than two years. The truth is, of course, that many never get back into work, partly because there is a sense that taking on an older employee is less valuable, despite their skills and experience. Given that during the pandemic we have seen a much greater increase proportionately in unemployment among the over-50s, there is clearly a risk that many of these people will never return to work. I support the suggestion of the equivalent to the Kickstart programme for over-50s, because we know that the longer you are unemployed at over 50, the more likely it is that you will never return to work.

As I said, I thought that the idea of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, was excellent. I can only concur with the noble Lord that we should explore that.

My Lords, the pandemic has been particularly difficult for older people in terms of job losses. Even in normal times, far too many are out of work well before retirement age. We must do more to acknowledge the contribution to society and the economy of people of all ages, so what more can the Government do to cut out age bias in recruitment and training and to get companies to recognise the importance of age inclusivity?

This will be part of the important work of the over-50s champion appointed by the Government, Andy Briggs. I reiterate that older workers have skills and experience that employers are looking for. It is up to us to work with employers to encourage and influence them to secure vacancies for older workers.

My Lords, I spoke only this morning to four distinguished horticulturalists who said that they would warmly welcome people aged over 50 coming into that sector. They, too, mentioned a modified Kickstart scheme, so may I add to the pleas already made?

Kickstart for older workers: message received and understood. The UK Government are investing £2.5 billion in the national skills fund to aid the lifetime guarantee, we have a free online skills toolkit and the Chancellor’s announcement in July of his Plan for Jobs included an extra £17 million to support 32,000 more vocational training places.

My Lords, a snapshot by the Institute for Fiscal Studies last year showed that one in four people on furlough were over 50. My concern is that many of those people will not go back into employment again—as we have heard, over-50s are harder to employ. Could we not profitably use the time when people are on furlough to retrain them for the jobs that will be available when we come out of the pandemic properly?

I am pleased to be able to confirm to the House that, where an employee is on furlough, they can take part in training, volunteer for another employer or organisation or work for another employer if contractually allowed.

My Lords, what efforts are the job coaches and service centres making to assess the current skills of over-50s and to ensure the necessary retraining to enable re-employment? I hope that the House will recognise the enormous efforts being made by job coaches and service centre staff. The system might need some improvement, so the Kickstart idea is a good example.

I think that I have already covered the issue of reskilling and training. The key to getting people back to work is to have the work coach make an assessment and build an action plan that gets people back to work, along with the efforts that we are making to influence employers. I am grateful to the noble Lord, as will be the whole DWP staff, for his endorsement of their excellent and committed work.