The government must overhaul policies and help employers support the health needs of the 7.2m older workers in the UK who have chronic illnesses.
Older workers are now the fastest growing population of the workforce and play an increasingly vital role in the UK economy, yet 42 per cent of over 50s have often manageable chronic illnesses that can undermine their productivity, increase their absence from work or even force them out of work altogether.
This is the conclusion of a new White Paper from The Health at Work Policy Unit of Lancaster University’s Work Foundation.
Lead author of the paper Dr Tyna Taskila said: “With the UK economy relying much more on extending the working lives of older people, we need the NHS, the Department of Work and Pensions and employers to ensure that those with chronic illnesses such as musculoskeletal disorders and mental health conditions are given the support they need to live healthy and fulfilling working lives.”
The White Paper argues that the government can do more directly – and by supporting employers – to make sure older workers with health conditions receive advice, support, treatment, training and flexible working arrangements that improve their chances of remaining productive and healthy at work.
The Work Foundation’s eight recommendations include:
- Employers should be encouraged to offer mid-life career reviews which include discussions about health (as in France, for example);
- Expand opportunities for flexible working earlier through the removal of the 26 week rule from right to request flexible working;
- Improving and expanding provision for older workers in the Access to Work scheme;
- The new Fit for Work Service should be enhanced with specialist awareness of, and provision for, older workers with chronic illnesses;
- More specialist support is needed to help older workers with conditions back into the labour market with a revised Work Programme scheme;
- Government should introduce an ‘Age Confident’ campaign to raise awareness of the benefits of employing older workers.
Co-author, Stephen Bevan, Director of the Health at Work Policy Unit said: “Chronic illness need not be a barrier to full and fulfilling employment for older workers, especially if they get the treatment and support they need. The real danger is that the knowledge, experience, know-how and skills of many older workers will be lost if we fail to put together joined-up resources and interventions that help them stay at work. This would not only be very harmful for the health, wellbeing and wealth of millions of individuals, it would also be hugely damaging to the economy as a whole.”
The White Paper, ‘Living Long, Working Well: Supporting older workers with health conditions to remain active at work’, highlights that more than 1.4m people in the UK are working after state retirement age, of whom around 300,000 are aged over 70. By 2020, a third of the UK’s workforce will be more than 50 years old.