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West Midlands Local Skills Report Supporting Evidence 2022

Demographic change and implications for working lives Age structure and projections

The number of people in the 50-64 age group is set to peak in the next few years and then reduce, before rising again in the latter part of the period shown. Meanwhile, the number of people aged 65 years and over is projected to increase throughout the period, while the numbers aged 25 to 49 years increase marginally.

Nationally and regionally, the patterns of work amongst older workers and the demographic bulge of the ‘baby boomer’ generation, coupled with rising employment rates amongst the over 50s prior to the Covid-19 crisis (outlined in more detail below), in the current context of labour and skills shortages highlights the importance of placing policy emphasis on over 50s in the labour market. It is also pertinent to note that reduced immigration in the context of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic is enhanced population ageing.

Trends in labour market participation for the over 50s

Nationally, from the 1970s until the mid 1990s there was a decrease in employment rates for the over 50s, driven by early exit from the labour market of older men65 from declining industries (i.e. major job losses in mining and manufacturing), especially in the first part of the 1980s. Government policy played a role here, with the Job Release Scheme (JRS) from 1977 to 1988 discouraging employment amongst older adults in the face of concerns about youth unemployment. The JRS paid ‘released’ older workers an allowance that was higher than the state pension and unemployment benefits and was linked to the employer hiring a young unemployed person in their place. Hence, older workers were seen as fulfilling a ‘buffer’ role in a slack labour market. Analysis suggests that the JRS reduced employment amongst older adults but had no positive effect on youth employment.66 From the mid 1980s onwards movement onto Invalidity/Incapacity Benefit amongst people aged 50-64 was a major pathway for early exit from the labour force.

By contrast, from the mid 1990s until 2019 there was a strong increase in employment rates, mainly driven by increases in employment amongst older women. In 2019 the national employment rate for people aged 50-64 years reached a record high of 73%.67 A key factor underlying this increase was the rise in the state pension age (SPA) for women from the age of 60 to 65 years over the period from April 2010 to November 2018. This impacting on women born in the 1950s. Currently pension ages for men and women are equal at 66 years, with further legislative provision to increase the SPA in stages to 68 years.68 Between 1992 and 2020 the average age of retirement entry rose by 1.9 years for men (to 65.2), and by 3.6 years for women (to 64.3). This marked a reduction in the gender gap in age of retirement. The increase in employment rates to the start of 2020 was evident in all over 50s age groups up to 74 years, but was most marked amongst those aged 60-64 years.69 International analyses for the 55-74 age group highlights that this rise in employment rates is a broader international phenomenon, but the increase is attributable to an increase in retention rates of older workers within firms rather than an increased willingness for employers to hire older workers.70

The Covid-19 crisis has brought a reduction in employment rates, with older and younger workers affected more than people in the middle age groups.71 Analysis conducted a year into the Covid-19 crisis (in April 2021) showed that employment rates had declined by 2 percentage points for both men and women.72

Comparisons with previous economic crises in the 1980s and 1990s indicated that at a similar stage of the crisis women in their 50s had been more adversely affected by the Covid-19 crisis,73 while for older men the impact was similar to that in previous crises. Nationally, the Covid-19 pandemic has seen the employment rate for women in their 50s fall by 2.1 percentage points, with two-thirds moving into economic inactivity rather than unemployment.74

More generally, there is increasing concern about the rise in inactivity, driven by fewer older people in the labour market, especially in the context of very high levels of vacancies.75

Analyses by the Office for National Statistics76 at UK level for workers aged 55 years and over on the economic position of those who were in employment 12 months previously who are now unemployed or economically inactive show an increase in early retirement and in redundancies. The number giving up work for health reasons was higher in 2020 (coinciding with the start of the pandemic) than in 2019 or 2021. The other single largest reason provided was retirement at or after state pension age.

Employment rates for 50-64 year olds disaggregated by gender for the WMCA 7-Met area, the Black Country LEP area, GBSLEP and the UK from 2005 to 2021. The downturn in employment rates for women aged between 50-64 that is evident at national level between 2020 and 2021 is also evident in the Coventry & Warwickshire LEP area, but not in the Black Country or GBSLEP areas.

In the WMCA area the employment rate for women aged 50-64 years remained virtually unchanged. However, the confidence intervals for sub-national areas are greater than at the national scale so caution should be emphasised in interpretation. Increasing employment rates are evident across all areas shown for this age group between 2011 and 2020, with the narrowing of the gender differential between females and males indicating a greater increase for the former than for the latter.

Employment rates by age group and gender for the WMCA 7-Met area and the UK from 2005 to 2021. In the WMCA 7 Met area employment rates for both males aged 50-64 years and females aged 50-64 years employment rates converged over the period from around 2013 to a level similar to those for all 16-64 year olds. In the UK employment rates for 50-64 year olds remained below those for 16-64 year olds.

Throughout the period the UK employment rates for 16-24 year olds and 25-49 year olds were higher than in the WMCA 7-Met area, whereas for 50-64 year olds employment rates were more similar in the WMCA 7-Met area and the UK, with the rates being virtually the same in 2021. There are a number of possible reasons why this could be the case, including that older workers in the WMCA 7-Met area have fewer financial resources to retire early than those elsewhere.

Analyses suggest that moves of the over 50s out of employment are not concentrated amongst the hardest hit sectors or those with lower skills, but that workers in the public sector have had the biggest risk of moving out of work. Older workers have also been hit disproportionately by furlough, particularly those aged over 65 years,77 with sector of employment being a key factor here. A survey commissioned by the Resolution Foundation in January 2021 (with a sample of 6,389 adults aged 18 to 65) found that of those who were employed in February 2020, 25% were either no longer working by January 2021, were employed but furloughed, or were employed but had seen their earnings fall by at least 10 per cent compared to February 2020. However, among sample members aged 55 to 59 years 27% were in this category, as were 35% of those aged 60 to 65 years.78

The employment characteristics of workers over 50, and more especially those over 60, are rather different from those of younger workers. In particular, older workers are more likely to work part-time, have low weekly (and hourly) pay than all but the youngest workers. They are also more likely to be self-employed, with the increase in self-employment being particularly marked for those in their 60s (see Figure 6). While the share of older men who are self-employed has remained relatively stable over time, there has been an increase in self employment amongst older women over the last decade.79

Table 1 shows the labour market status of 50-64 year olds in the West Midlands (NUTS 1) region in the year ending June 2021, together with a comparison with the UK. 50-64 year olds in the West Midlands (NUTS 1) region were slightly more likely to be economically active (74.8%) than in the UK (73.6%), were more likely to be employees and less likely to be self-employed. Of those in employment, 74.0% in the West Midlands NUTS 1 region were working full-time compared with 73.3% in the UK.

The three right-hand columns compare the labour market status on 50-54 year olds, 55-59 year olds and 60-64 year olds in the West Midlands NUTS 1 region. Economic inactivity increases with age: just over 40% of 60-64 year olds are economically inactive, compared with 24.4% of 55-59 year olds and 13.6% of 50-54 year olds. As indicated at the national scale in Figure 3, part-time employment increases with age, from 16.0% of 50-54 year olds, to 20.7% of 55-59 year olds and 31.0% of 60-64 year olds.

WM 50-64 (N)
WM 50-64 (%)
UK 50-64 (%)
WM 50-54 (%)
WM 55-59 (%)
WM 60-64 (%)
All 1,117,300 - - - - -
Economically Active 835,500 74.8 73.6 86.4 75.6 59.7
Employed 804,600 72.0 70.7 83.9 73.2 56.2
Employee 667,100 82.9 81.9 85.0 83.2 78.6


full time

497,000 61.8 61.0 69.0 62.5 47.6



170,100 21.1 21.0 16.0 20.7 31.0

self employed

134,900 16.8 17.7 14.8 16.6 20.7

self employed

full time

97,800 12.2 12.2 11.5 12.0 13.5

self employed

part time

37,100 4.6 5.5 3.2 4.5 7.2
Other 2,600 0.3 0.4 0.2 - 0.7


full time

700 0.1 0.1 - - -


part time

1,900 0.2 0.2 - - 0.7


full time

595,600 74.0 73.3 80.7 74.6 61.1


part time

209,100 26.0 26.7 19.3 25.4 38.9


30,900 3.7 3.9 2.9 3.2 5.9

Economically inactive

281,800 25.2 26.4 13.6 24.4 40.3

Table 1: Labour market status of 50-64 years olds in the West Midlands NUTS 1 region, year ending June 2021

Source: Annual Population Survey, June 2020-June 2021

Note: Employment, economic activity and economic inactivity rates are the percentage of the age group population. Unemployment rates are the percentage of the age group economically active. Employment sub-type rates (e.g. employee or full-time) are a percentage of age group total employment. Respondents who did not state whether they were full-time or part-time have been included with full-time categories to

It should be noted that transitions into retirement need not be one way and that flexible working plays an important role in ‘un-retirement’. Analyses using data from the British Household Survey to examine un-retirement using a survival analysis, which is defined as reporting being retired and subsequently recommencing paid employment or beginning full-time work following partial retirement, showed that around 25% of

people experienced a retirement reversal.80 ‘Un-retirement’ is more common for males, the higher educated, those in better health, those who owned a house with a mortgage and those with a partner in paid work. This suggests that this is a strategy used by those who are already advantaged. It also indicates that some retired people may be open to returning to the labour market to address labour and skills shortages.

Age profile of sectors and occupations

The sectors with the oldest average workforces at national level are primary industries, real estate and transport and storage (see Figure 7).81 However, the largest absolute numbers of workers aged 50 years and over are in education, health & social work, manufacturing and wholesale & retail; together these sectors account for nearly half of older workers.

It would be expected that the patterns for the West Midlands would be similar, and it is notable that these are all important sectors for the region. The former three sectors, in particular, with their older mean ages, are likely to face particular replacement demand requirements as older workers retire. Construction accounts for the next largest share, but public administration (which also has a sizeable number of workers aged 50 years and over) displays a higher average age than construction. Hospitality stands out amongst all of the sectors shown with easily the lowest average workforce age.

Workers aged 50 years and over are more likely to work in machine operative and elementary occupations, skilled trades occupations, administrative and secretarial occupations, and caring, sales and customer service occupations than those aged 35-49 years. They are less likely to work in managerial and professional occupations and associate professional and technical occupations. In part this occupational pattern reflects structural changes in the occupational composition of employment, with skill trades occupations and administrative and secretarial occupations in long-term decline. Earlier-born generations are less well represented in higher level non-manual occupations have increased in importance.82

Analyses from the Office for National Statistics identify the proportion of employees accounted for by people aged over 55 years at Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) 3-digit code.

Table 2 shows the ‘top 20’ occupations in rank order. At least 44% of managers & proprietors in agricultural related services and of people in housekeeping & related services are aged over 55 years. Skilled trades occupations related to sectors in long- term employment decline also display amongst the largest proportions of workers aged over 55 years, including textiles & garments trades, agricultural & related trades and printing trades. More than one in three road transport drivers are aged over 55 years. Various senior managerial occupations also display high proportions of employees aged over 55 years.

The top panel of Table 3 shows the ‘top 20’ 3-digit occupations ranked on the percentage point change in the proportion of employees aged over 55 years over the year ending September 2021 compared with the year ending September 2016. The majority of these occupations with the highest percentage point changes have a greater than average share of employees over 55 years. Conservation & associated professional occupations head the list, along with textiles & garment trades and financial institution managers & directors.

Various elementary occupations (including elementary process plant occupations and elementary administration occupations), skilled trades occupations (including metal forming, welding & related trades and printing trades) and occupations related to driving (including mobile machine drivers & operatives and road transport drivers) are amongst those occupations displaying amongst the greatest increases in the proportion of employees aged over 55 years. Occupations related to construction are also prominent in the list, including building finishing trades and elementary construction trades. Exceptions to the general tendency for the occupations listed in the top panel of Table 3 to be those with an older than average share of older workers include hairdressers & related services where numbers of young people entering into the occupation may have been disrupted in recent times, and also sports & fitness occupations.

3 Digit SOC Group
Top 20
% of point change in
over 55 years
% over 55 years
355 Conservation and environmental associate professionals 24.8 42.5
541 Textile and garment trades 13.6 38.7
115 Financial institution managers and directors 12.3 25.3
822 Mobile machine drivers and operatives 10.8 26.1
913 Elementary process plant occupations 10.1 25.9
921 Elementary administration occupations 9.2 28.5
521 Metal forming, welding and related trades 8.8 29.7
542 Printing trades 8.6 33.4
923 Elementary cleaning occupations 8.0 33.2
532 Building finishing trades 7.9 29.0
624 cleaning and housekeeping managers and supervisors 7.1 23.6
622 Hairdressers and related services 6.8 14.5
912 Elementary construction occupations 6.7 20.3
523 Vehicle trades 6.6 21.9
116 Managers and directors in transport and logistics 6.4 21.2
344 Sports and fitness occupations 6.4 17.6
821 Road transport drivers 6.3 35.1
223 Nursing and midwifery professionals 5.8 23.9
812 Plant and machine operatives 5.7 25.0
118 Health and social services managers and directors 5.6 31.9


3 Digit SOC Group
Bottom 20
% of point change in
over 55 years
% over 55 years
525 Skilled metal and electrical  /electronic trade supervisors 9.2 21.2
212 Engineering professionals 2.5 16.7
246 Quality and regulatory professionals 1.5 17.2
241 Legal Professionals 1.4 17.0
353 Business, finance and related associate professionals 1.4 14.5
312 Draughtspersons and related architectural technicians 1.3 18.0
511 Agricultural and related trades 1.1 36.6
122 Managers and proprietors in hospitality and leisure services 0.9 21.2
524 Electrical and electrical trades 0.8 18.6
356 Public services and other associate professionals 0.7 20.5
311 Science, engineering and production technician  0.7 18.2
211 Natural and social science professionals 0.7 13.6
342 Design occupations 0.4 13.2
924 elementary security occupations 0.3 24.2
231 Teaching and education professionals 0.2 19.2
111 Chief executive and senior professionals 0.1 42.0
911 Elementary agricultural  occupations 0.1 26.7
222 Therapy professionals 0.2 18.3
119 Managers and directors in retail and wholesale 0.4 20.7
113 Functional managers and directors 0.5 21.6

The bottom panel of Table 3 shows the ‘bottom 20’ 3-digit occupations ranked on the percentage point change in the proportion of employees aged over 55 years over the year ending September 2021 compared with the year ending September 2016. The largest reduction in over 55s is accounted for by skilled metal, electrical & electronics trades supervisors, followed by engineering professionals. Associate professional & technical occupations and professional occupations which have seen medium-term increases in employment are quite prominent in the rankings - for example, legal professionals, business finance & related associated professional and design professionals.

Barriers facing over 50s to participating in learning and employment

Extant research shows that barriers faced by older workers in finding employment include individual and household characteristics such as poor health and caring responsibilities, and more structural issues including a lack of incentives for employers to take on older workers, age discrimination, poor access to flexible working, low confidence and aspirations, and a lack of employment support.83 These challenges remain pertinent in the context of the Covid-19 crisis, but a recent survey of 2,000 over 50s which examined their experiences and challenges faced in participating in employment, also highlights qualifications, skills and flexibility of work.84 Qualifications, skills and the structural issues identified here are examined below.

Importantly, not all barriers faced by the over 50s are age-related. Although often overlooked in analyses of barriers facing older job seekers in seeking employment, labour demand is also a factor. The survey of over 50s cited above found that 44 per cent of recent over 50s job seekers in the West Midlands cited insufficient job opportunities; this was the highest for any region and compares with 33% nationally.85

Qualifications, skills and training

Formal qualifications help individuals in the labour market: older jobseekers with higher education are 5 percentage points more likely to have found work one year later than otherwise similar jobseekers with lower levels of formal education (at GCSE level or lower).86 The upper panel of Figure 8 shows the proportion of 50-64 year olds with a degree level qualification (i.e. NVQ4+) in the WMCA 7-Met area and the three West Midlands LEP areas compared with England. In 2020 30.7% of those aged 50-64 years in the WMCA 7-Met area had such a qualification, up from 18.8% in 2004; this was substantially below the England average (39.1% in 2020, up from 24.6% in 2004). Coventry & Warwickshire LEP displayed a proportion similar to the England average, with the Black Country having a lower than average share of people aged 50-64 years with degrees. Amongst 25-49 year olds the proportion with degree level qualifications is considerably higher (around 13 percentage points) than for 50-64 year olds: at 42.9% in 2020 in the WMCA 7-Met area and 51.9% in England. The lower panel of Figure 8 shows the proportion of 50-64 year olds and 25-49 year olds with no qualifications. In 2020 14.4% of 50-64 year olds in the WMCA 7-Met area had no qualifications compared with 8.2% of 25-49 year olds. The respective shares for England were 8.1% for 50-64 year olds and 4.5% for 25- 49 year olds. For both age groups and across all areas shown there has been a long-term decline in the proportion of the population with no qualifications. (Qualifications for 16-24 year olds are not shown here because many people in this age group are still in the process of studying for formal qualifications.)

However, there is evidence that some older job seekers feel that they are over-qualified for jobs on offer and that this counts against them in job search.87 Having a limited time left in the workforce before retiring also means that some of the over 50s are resistant to, or unsure about, exploring retraining, especially in new areas where they do not feel confident, even if this is likely to result in more job opportunities.88 It is clear that IT skills are increasingly needed for a wider variety of jobs and there is some evidence that age-based stereotypes about older workers being likely to lack necessary digital skills and/ or display less adaptability in this respect can be problematic.89

Access to training is important for progression in employment and such access is unequal. International evidence from the European Sustainable Workforce Survey 2015 and 2016 suggests that older women are more likely than older men to work for organisations that offer training (notably in the public sector), but that within these organisations they are more likely to occupy job roles that make them less likely to receive training. It also shows that within organisations managers play a key role in decisions on who receives training.90 Access to retraining is a key factor in helping job re-entry and inter-industry moves. Analyses suggest that older non-graduate men received a particularly large boost to the odds of returning to work from training.91 Generally, the evidence suggests that older people tend to perceive (re)training and other support services as being targeted towards people with limited experience or who are disadvantaged rather than people like them.92 This is particularly the case for the apprenticeship ‘brand’, even though on-the-job learning in the workplace and real-life application of skills can improve the employment and progression prospects of older, as well as younger, people.93

Commentators have pointed to a need for greater investment in training tailored to helping older workers move back into work. They have suggested that adult skills funding should be extended to give all older workers funding for a qualification up to and including level 3.94 They have also highlighted that there is merit in tailoring support to specific sectors95 and in fast-tracking furloughed workers/ those made redundant to retraining opportunities.96 The provision of modular learning has also been identified as helping take up by the over 50s.97

Difficulties in finding quality employment after job loss

Older workers are more likely to face redundancy than younger workers, with analyses revealing that the redundancy rate was higher for over 50s than younger workers in 49 out of 57 quarters (i.e. 86% of the time) since 2007.98 Moreover, older workers take longer to return to employment after becoming unemployed than younger people, with those with lower levels of education and women being less likely to find employment after unemployment; indeed, women aged 50-69 years are 4 percentage points less likely to move from unemployment back into work than men with otherwise similar characteristics.99

Over 50s who are unemployed are twice as likely to be out of work for 12 months or more as younger workers and almost 50% more likely as workers aged 25 to 49.100 As the duration of unemployment lengthens, so the probability of finding employment reduces. On average across the 2008 to 2020 period, two quarters after becoming unemployed, 62% of the over 50s had returned to employment, compared with 72% of 30-49 year olds and 74% of 16-29-year-olds.101 Analyses by the ONS102 also indicate a disadvantage faced by older workers that remains once unemployment duration and personal characteristics have been accounted for: unemployed individuals in their 50s and those in their 60s are 3 percentage points and 7 percentage points, respectively, less likely to move into work in the next quarter compared with those in their 30s.

Also, on average, the over 50s who find employment after job loss earn substantially less than they did in their previous job, including when compared to those who are younger. Working lower hours is one factor here, but the median change in weekly pay is substantial at 17%.103 The urgency to move into work as quickly as possible when redundant/ unemployed has been identified as one factor that can lead to rushed decisions and lower quality employment outcomes, characterised by low pay and unfulfilling work.

Conversely, others amongst the over 50s who are made redundant may delay finding work and take money from pensions and/or retire early, leaving less money for later in their lives.104

Compared with younger workers, older workers are less likely to have recent experience of job moves or of job search. Analyses based on the Labour Force Survey and the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing

show that the probability of changing occupation declines with age: 4% of workers in their 50s and 1% of workers in their late 60s change their occupation over the course of a year, compared with 6% of workers aged 35 year. Only 4% of older workers typically change employer in a single year; at the age of 55 years 69% of workers have been with their employer for at least five years. Longitudinal analysis of occupational changes of older workers on their pathways to retirement shows that workers aged 50 and over in the public sector, and those with defined benefit pensions, are less likely to change occupations.105 This means that when it comes to job search they are likely to be less well equipped than those with more recent experience of current methods of job search. As a result, they may rely on informal help from family and friends to navigate the job market, as part of a general tendency amongst the over 50s for self-reliance in job search.106

Age discrimination

Legally employers cannot ask for a date of birth on a job application unless there are specific age requirements for the job in question. Yet a sizeable proportion of older workers perceive that they are subject to age discrimination, negative stereotypes and prejudice. Perceptions can have real impacts on behaviour. This is revealed by findings from a mixed method research project on ageism in the recruitment process from the perspective of older workers (here defined as those aged 50 to 69), involving interviews with 55 individuals aged 50 to 69 from a range of different sectors in different regions of England with recent experience of the recruitment process, together with a nationally representative survey of over 1,500 adults.107 The results show that 17% had experienced age discrimination in the recruitment process. 52% had been unable to find a job that met their needs. 76% were put off applying for jobs, 68% said their experience had undermined their confidence and 43% said that their health and wellbeing had been affected. 25% said that they had wanted to move jobs but felt unable to do so because of their age, and 33% felt stuck in insecure work.

International evidence suggests that a combination of factors, including ageism in the workplace, seniority pay out of line with older worker productivity and relatively low digital skills contribute to an unwillingness amongst employers to hire older workers.108 Polling evidence from the UK suggests that senior managers are divided in their opinions about challenges associated with an ageing workforce. However, they were most concerned about increased pension contributions as people near retirement and about longer periods of time out of the workforce due to sickness/illness. They were equally worried and not worried about younger workers leaving due to a lack of progression, the implication being that if older workers stay in the labour market for longer this could impact the progression of workers through the workplace hierarchy.109

Just as perceptions held by older workers and job seekers can influence their behaviour, so negative perceptions of older workers held by managers/ members of a recruitment panel can potentially influence outcomes of the recruitment process. Examples of negative perceptions include: older workers ‘not tending to want to work in junior roles’, ‘having poor

IT skills’ and being ‘more likely to have issues with their fitness levels, impacting their effectiveness in physical roles’. Contrastingly, younger people may be ‘more flexible to the needs of the business, particularly in terms of working patterns’ and be more ‘presentable’ for customer-facing roles.110

Evidence from the 2019 Employer Skills Survey111 indicates that 31% of all recruiting employers had recruited someone aged 50 or over in the 12 months prior to being surveyed. On the whole, experience of recruiting an older worker was favourable, with 95% of recruiting employers finding that found older recruits were prepared for their job role. The sectors where recruiting employers were most likely to take on workers aged 50 years and over were those identified above as having relatively large proportions of older workers: Public Administration, Transport and Storage and Health and Social Work.

Poor health

Evidence on transitions of older workers out of employment shows that those reporting a long- standing and work-limiting health problem are almost 5 percentage points less likely to still be in work a year later compared with those not reporting such a health problem.112 The likelihood of poor health affecting the over 50s’ continuation in work varies by the type of work that they do. For example, only around one in 20 of those aged 60-65 in professional occupations have been forced out of the labour market because of poor health, compared with one in three of those in elementary occupations or process, plant and machinery operatives who have left work and become economically inactive because of poor health.113 Given that the health impact of Covid-19 has generally been more severe amongst older people, it might be considered that employers’ concerns about the health of older workers/ recruits might have increased. Yet there are also adverse physical and mental health implications of job loss and involuntary retirement at older ages.

The role of part-time and flexible working

Flexible working can help older people stay in employment for longer (as suggested by the trends by age shown in Figure 6); it may help fit around caring responsibilities and health problems, which are major reasons for early retirement.114 Relatedly, some commentators suggest that social prescribing of workplace health support, or more general advice and support, is one way of enabling people to stay in the workplace.115

Evidence suggests that part-time working acts as a way of making a gradual transition towards retirement for older workers, particularly amongst those with higher levels of education and living in less deprived areas – so suggesting a degree of positive choice and opportunities available for part-time working. While 16% of those 50-69 years in employment would like to work fewer hours, there are some who would like to work longer: 7% of older workers in 2019 wanted to work more hours, with the latter group tending to be more likely to have low earnings and shorter job tenures (i.e. those who have a more precarious labour market position).

What works in helping the over 50s into employment Evidence suggests that generic employment support programmes have tended to be less effective at supporting older people than their younger counterparts back into work. For example, data on Work Programme outcomes shows that older workers were far less likely to achieve a sustained employment outcome; just one in five individuals in their late 50s achieved a sustained employment outcome, compared with two in five of those aged 18-24 years. Over 50s jobseekers were less likely to experience continuity of support from job advisers, less likely to have frequent meetings, and less likely to view the support they received as helpful.116

More customised support programmes focusing on the distinctive challenges facing older people are likely to be helpful.117 The success of the former New Deal 50 plus programme (focused specifically on the over 50s) highlighted the voluntary nature of the scheme and the personalisation of support offered, in recognition of the different motivations and barriers to work of participants, as key success factors.118 Policy also needs to recognise the heterogeneity of older job seekers, accounting for how close they are to the labour market, the relevance of their current skills for available job opportunities, their health, care responsibilities

Together these factors highlight the need for a segmented approach. A review conducted for the Centre for Ageing Better119 indicates that advisors should be trained to deal with the full range of older job seekers they might face, including those from managerial or professional backgrounds. Motivational, asset-based support to develop positive attitudes and expectations about job search and employment appears to
be a strong predictor of success in employment outcomes for the over 50s. The evidence highlights that job seekers might benefit from being supported by an advisor of a similar age (and perhaps gender and ethnicity). It also suggests that it may be appropriate to provide employment support (both voluntary and mandatory) outside of Jobcentres and alongside other services in order to provide integrated local support across agencies; and that advisors should fully recognise an older job seeker’s skills, experiences and prior learning.

For older workers made redundant, rapid responsive action is important. More generally, the TUC has called for workers to have a right for a mid-life career and skills review to help take stock of their skills and working lives, and to plan for the future, taking account of challenges faced and opportunities for progression.120

In the context of the Covid-19 crisis and the impact it has had on working lives, it has become more pressing to understand financial well-being amongst older people (given that some may be able to afford to retire early, whereas for others this is not an option), what challenges they face and how best to support them.121 Again this calls for cross-agency working.

The quality of work available makes retention of older workers easier and also helps attract those seeking to move into employment. The availability of flexible working is a key feature here, including as a tool for businesses to retain staff, as are opportunities for lifelong learning and retraining.122 The relatively large share of older workers who are self-employed may be indicative, at least in part, that employers are not providing the flexibility in work that older people desire.

The majority of people believe that good quality work is good for physical and mental health, and that it fulfils psycho-social needs in addition to providing an income.123 Work plays an important role in individuals’ finances, health and wellbeing and social connections.124 Recursively, good health helps workers aged 50 and over to stay in work for longer and good quality work can help improve health and well-being.125

Redundancy has impacts on finances of older workers: analysis suggests that those who were recently made redundant saw an average reduction in their expected retirement savings of 8% compared to those who were not made redundant, leading to an average 18% reduction in the annual retirement-savings surplus.126 This highlights that supporting people to be in good quality work for as long they want to is critical for their financial security.

Universal credit claimants

The most up-to-date data on the labour market position of older people at the local and neighbourhood level is from the claimant count. Under Universal Credit (UC) a broader span of claimants is required to look for work than was the case under Jobseeker's Allowance, and the claimant count will include people in work as well as those out of work. For the maps below the claimant data has been extracted from Nomis and only includes those records containing full information. The data presented relate tot the position in November 2021, which is the latest available data at the time of writing.

Table 4 shows the number of UC claimants seeking work In March 2021 and November 2021. For all age groups there was a considerable increase in the number of such claimants seeking work, with the relative increase greater (at over 60% for workers aged 50-54 and 55-59 years) than the average across all age groups (at over 50%). Those aged 50 years and over accounted for nearly 20% of UC claimants seeking work in March 2020 and over 21% in November 2021. The fact that older claimants account for one in five of all claimants seeking work indicates the need to take account of their requirements.

Age group
March - 20
Nov - 21
% change
16-19 5180 6407 23.7
20-24 13666 18399 34.6
25-29 12527 18042 44.0
30-34 11837 18562 56.8
35-39 10013 16543 65.2
40-44 7924 13491 70.3
45-49 7065 11133 57.6
50-54 6300 10195 61.8
55-59 5382 8692 61.5
60-65 4902 8451 72.4
over 65 61 327 436.1
Total 84857 130242 53.5


Age group
March - 20
Nov - 21
% change
16-19 6225 7710 23.9
20-24 15997 21821 36.4
25-29 14793 21486 45.2
30-34 13973 22226 59.1
35-39 11855 19789 66.9
40-44 9413 16106 71.1
45-49 8448 13303 57.5
50-54 7557 12351 63.4
55-59 6537 10658 63.0
60-65 5993 10473 74.8
over 65 66 414 527.3
Total 100857 156337 55.0

Table 4: Universal Credit claimants seeking work by age group, March 2020 and November 2021


  50-54 55-59 60-65 Over 65 Total
Cannock Chase 179 184 158 10 531
East Staffordshire 210 158 198 11 577
Lichfield 166 159 154 7 486
Tamworth 135 136 154 6 431
North Warwickshire 104 103 89 5 301
Nuneaton and Bedworth 297 242 255 8 802
Rugby 155 155 172 5 487
Stratford on Avon 217 167 207 13 604
Warwick 218 190 180 8 596
Birmingham 5211 4370 4129 182 13892
Coventry 978 782 678 24 2462
Dudley 775 650 674 21 2120
Sandwell 1056 976 941 36 3009
Solihull 413 336 361 17 1127
Walsall 818 695 765 21 2299
Wolverhampton 944 883 903 26 2756
Bromsgrove 127 135 127 - 386
Redditch 163 158 151 5 477
Wyre Forest 185 179 177 9 550

Table 5: UC claimants aged 50 and over seeking work by local authority area, Nov 2021


Over 65
% of total
BCLEP 3080 2701 2715 90 39202 21.9
CWLEP 1710 1362 1307 51 19609 22.6
GBSLEP 5936 5080 4747 187 71423 22.3
Cannock Chase 155 151 116 5 1825 23.4
East Staffordshire 177 128 156 7 2209 21.2
Lichfield 151 136 137 7 1499 28.8
Tamworth 113 118 130 - 1624 22.2
North Warwickshire 86 93 72 5 950 26.9
Nuneaton and Bedworth 258 192 196 5 2995 21.7
Rugby 142 125 132 5 1822 22.2
Stratford on Avon 191 142 185 8 1693 31.1
Warwick 191 152 148 8 1911 26.1
Birmingham 4562 3860 3537 143 55012 22.0
Coventry 842 658 574 20 10238 20.5
Dudley 689 559 568 13 8137 22.5
Sandwell 896 831 777 38 11616 21.9
Solihull 364 297 309 12 4278 23.0
Walsall 678 557 618 15 8807 21.2
Wolverhampton 817 754 752 24 10642 22.1
Bromsgrove 118 114 108 - 1414 24.0
Redditch 135 129 120 5 1747 22.3
Wyre Forest 161 147 134 8 550 24.8

Table 6: UC claimants aged 50 and over seeking work 6 months and over by local authority area, Nov 2021

Table 5 shows the geographical disaggregation of UC claimants aged 50 years and over seeking work by local authority area. Birmingham, with 13,892 UC claimants over 50 seeking work accounts for 50% of the total in the 7-Met area, which in turn comprises 81%

of nearly 34 thousand such claimants across the 3-LEP area. The local authorities with the next largest counts are Sandwell with 3,009 and Wolverhampton with 2,756. Table 6 shows the number of UC claimants aged 50 years and over who have been seeking work for 6 months and over. Comparisons with the counts shown in Table 5 indicate that 86% of UC claimants aged 50 and over in the 7-Met area have been seeking work for at least 6 months, as have 85% across the 3-LEP area. Claimants seeking work for at least 6 months aged 50 and over account for approximately 22% of all UC claimants seeking work for at least 6 months across the 7-Met area and the 3-LEP area. The proportions of all UC claimants seeking work for at least 6 months who are aged 50 years and over are highest in areas traditionally characterised by relative prosperity: Stratford- Avon (31.1%), Lichfield (28.2%), North Warwickshire (26.9%) and Warwick (26.1%).

Place-based interventions

So, what is the role for place-based interventions in addressing the challenges facing the over 50s in accessing learning and employment?

A rapid evidence review of employment support for the over 50s notes:127 “the evidence leads to the conclusion that place-based interventions need not just to improve job- search and training activity and support, but to work with employers to challenge age-bias and stereotypical attitudes towards older workers”. An earlier review, highlighting the mix of economic and socio-demographic influences on older people’s decisions about labour market participation and employment, also noted that decision-making is located in social networks within which personal ties are embedded, meaning that local, social norms matter.128

This evidence points to a role for local initiatives – including place-based hubs – drawing on local networks and referrals from housing associations and other local service providers outside the employment and skills domain, perhaps drawing on the experience of Connecting Communities in the WMCA area. Research with the over 50s suggests that existed trusted relationships with family and friends and local services play an important role in where and how employment support is accessed.129 Given the role of employers and the importance of quality work, job design and opportunities for flexible working, it also emphasises a role for local Good Work Charters130 (albeit at a larger spatial scale than neighbourhood/ local hubs).

  • Nationally, the demographic bulge of the ‘baby boomer’ generation, coupled with rising employment rates amongst the over 50s prior to the Covid-19 crisis, has led to a greater share of employment being accounted for by older workers. In 2020, 21% of the workforce was aged 55 years and over, compared with 13% in 2000. In the next ten years all of those in the large ‘baby boomer’ generation will have reached the state pension age. Replacement demand will result in relatively high net requirements in sectors such as education, health and manufacturing which are large employment sectors with an older than average age structure.

  • Currently there is policy concern about the rise in inactivity – including amongst older people and particularly amongst older women – in the context of record vacancies. This means there is a need to focus on the experiences of, and prospects for, older people and what might help them to remain in employment for longer or to return to the labour force.

  • Age-related and other factors impinge on over 50s’ participation in learning and employment. Demand-side matters as well as supply-side issues. The quality and flexibility of employment are important in retaining and attracting older workers. Promoting ‘Good Work’ is also beneficial for other labour market sub-groups, especially in the current context of labour and skills shortages.

  • Job seekers’/workers’ and employers’ perceptions impact on behaviour. A substantial proportion of older people feel that they are subject to age discrimination, with consequent implications for their health, confidence and job search activity. Although some employers have concerns about recruiting older people, the experience of hiring older workers is overwhelmingly positive amongst recruiting employers.

  • Once unemployed, older people tend to take longer to move into work than those in younger age groups. The over 50s are less likely to have recent experience of job moves and job search than younger workers and are less likely have knowledge of the contemporary job search process. Yet they are more likely to shun available support feeling that it is ‘not for them’ and to instead rely on family and friends. This highlights the importance of customised support focusing on the particular challenges faced by older people with different characteristics.

  • Qualifications and skills help older people in transitioning into employment from unemployment and economic inactivity, but some over 50s feel overqualified for jobs on offer. Yet (re)training can be helpful in such transitions, especially for those made redundant – where early intervention is helpful - and for non-graduate men for whom the odds of increasing to work following (re)training are highest. Modular training and sector-specific training may be particularly valuable. For older people in work managers play an important role in decisions about training, suggesting that the value of (re)training for the business and for the individual need to be emphasised.