The Spring Budget 2023 set out a number of upcoming changes within the employment sector, with a comprehensive package focused on four particular societal groups. One of these is workers aged 50 and over. The budget clearly acknowledges that older workers are important contributors to the economy and that more needs to be done to encourage them back to work.
Recent Labour Market data has evidenced the importance of the focus on workers in this particular age group. It shows that between May and July 2022, there were 386,096 more adults aged between 50 to 64 who were not working. This was compared with an earlier period of December 2019 to February 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Many workers aged 50 and over will have been part of a wider group of workers, who unfortunately lost their jobs, or indeed chose to stop working as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, economic inactivity has grown in this particular age group following the pandemic, which has reversed a historic falling trend in inactivity for workers aged over 50 for a number of years. The ‘Over 50’s lifestyle study’ shows that reasons for this age group not returning to work in 2022 included early retirement, health issues and a change in lifestyle.
The Spring Budget changes
One of the employment law changes announced in the Spring Budget that focused on workers aged over 50, is the increase in tax relief on pensions to encourage older workers to extend their working lives. The Lifetime Allowance charge on pension schemes will be removed from April 2023, before the Allowance is then abolished entirely from April 2024. Further, the Annual Allowance (the limit on yearly contributions) will be raised from £40,000 to £60,000.
Another focused change announced in the Spring Budget was the introduction of ‘returnships’, a new offer to the over 50’s, focused on getting this age group back to work. Returnships will bring together three programmes, including Apprenticeships, Sector-Based Work Academy Programmes (SWAP’s) and Skills Bootcamps. The training will focus on flexibility and takes previous experience into account, shortening the length of time that individuals have to be in training.
The introduction of ‘returnships’ comes with additional funding of £63.2 million, to increase the availability of Skills Bootcamps and SWAPs to workers aged over 50.
What employers can do
The Department of Work and Pensions is one of many organisations to sign the ‘Age-friendly Employer Pledge’, which is a nationwide programme for employers run by the Centre for Ageing Better. The pledge is a commitment by the organisations who have signed it to recognise the value of older workers and putting in place procedures to boost the employment of over 50’s.
The pledge sets out a number of helpful recommendations to employers, which we would suggest that all employers consider implementing at work. Not only can implementing some of these suggestions create an incentive for those over 50 to come back to work, but these measures will also assist in maintaining existing positive workplace cultures.
The recommendations are as follows:
- Career development at all ages – It is important to show employees of all ages and stages of their careers that there are clear paths to progression at work, and for these paths to be accessible to all. Promoting training, implementing a mentoring scheme and taking a personal interest in the goals and development of all employees are all helpful ways to do so;
- Culture – Cultural participation is a significant contributor to wellbeing in older workers, creating a sense of inclusion and belonging at work. In addition to improving mental health and wellbeing, cultural inclusion will lead to better working relationships between different age groups, and allow for increased productivity as a result;
- Flexibility – As evidenced in the ‘Over 50’s lifestyle study’, for those looking to return to work, flexibility at work is an important consideration. It is worth looking at how your workplace can provide flexible working arrangements to employees, for example, the option to work from home if possible, flexible start or finish times, and the accommodation of any individual needs, including medical or other appointments; and
- Age-hiring – All employers should be regularly looking at their data and considering whether there are any patterns in the hiring of new employees. If so, it is important to acknowledge and address how this can be improved and whether there could be an opportunity to change part of the hiring process.
It is important that employers who address the issues identified in this article ensure that any steps implemented do not inadvertently lead to allegations of age discrimination. These issues need to be handled sensitively, proportionately and in a way that treats all age groups fairly.
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