Are older workers an asset?

July 29, 2014 David Piltz

The UK government is, we are told, committed to driving support for the over 50s in the UK labour market. In its latest move the Pensions Minister Steve Webb (who was 49 on 18 July), has appointed Dr Ros Altmann, a former director general of Saga, as the new Business Champion for Older Workers. This move follows the government publication last month of ‘Fuller Working Lives- A Framework For Action’, which sets out the benefits to individuals, business and the economy as a whole, of people aged over 50 staying at work.
Dr Altmann has been an increasingly influential advocate for older people and would be the first to recognise that the over 50s have much experience and talent to offer businesses.

Steve Webb MP said: ‘Older workers have a huge amount to bring to any workforce and are a vast untapped talent in the UK labour market.’

Currently there are around 2.9 million people between 50 and state pension age out of work in the UK and around 40% are in this age bracket. Demographic changes show that in the next 10 years there will be 700,000 fewer people in the age range 16 to 49, but 3.7 million more people aged between 50 and state pension age. So, just based on demographics, there is clear reason for the government to appoint Dr Altmann. Moreover, it makes economic sense too because research by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research has found that if everyone worked a year longer, GDP could increase by 1%. Those working a year longer would also be able to boost their pension pot in addition to the year’s extra salary.

Commenting on the appointment of Dr Altmann the then Minister for Women, Nicky Morgan MP (aged 41) said: ‘Experienced and mature workers are a valuable asset to the UK economy . . . If we don’t retain them – British business loses out.’

Following the appointment of Dr Altmann, there was a media and filming opportunity on 14 July with Steve Webb and Dr Altmann attending an event with National Express – an enlightened company who take this important issue seriously and practice what they preach. Some 30% of their workforce is over 50 years old. Dr Altmann will have a harder job with less enlightened companies and institutions, some of which exhibit characteristics of old dinosaurs when it comes to employing older workers.

A day after the National Express media opportunity the Prime Minister, David Cameron (aged 47) moved the aforesaid Nicky Morgan (aged 41), in his cabinet reshuffle, made no doubt in part with next year’s election in mind, to Education Secretary. Liz Truss (who turned 39 on 26 July), Jeremy Wright (aged 41), and Stephen Crabb (aged 41) all enter the Cabinet. Those leaving the Cabinet include Ken Clarke (aged 74), Owen Paterson (aged 58), David Jones (aged 62), Sir George Young (aged 73 on 16 July), David Willets (aged 58), Hugh Robinson (aged 51), Nick Hurd (aged 52), Alan Duncan (aged 57), Andrew Robatham (aged 63), and Damien Green (aged 58). It appears not all mature workers are a valuable asset!

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