The fight for dignity and security for older workers

Published date
The idea of a dignified retirement after a life of work is something many of us aspire to. Perhaps we even take it for granted, that it’s a natural part of life that we move into in our later years. Sadly, the reality for many workers is quite different.

Last week, the TUC published a report that found that 1 in 7 workers in Wales are forced out of work before state pension age due to ill health or disability. The report reveals a shocking disparity along income and class lines, with lower paid workers six times more likely to leave work on medical grounds than those in higher-paid jobs.

One of the consequences of being forced out of work early is a gap in income, with the threat of poverty - already looming large over low-paid sectors - becoming an increased risk.

This situation is likely to be exacerbated by the UK Government’s inane obsession with raising the state pension age. Taking no account of health inequalities and variations across the country, the government plan to raise state pension age to 67 by 2028, with more increases set to follow.

This is a crude and improvident method for addressing longer life expectancies and will have a ruinous effect on many older workers, especially in lower paid sectors. By being made to work for longer, the potential for a premature exit from work due to ill health will likely increase. The income instability that comes with it may also become more prolonged as the retirement age continues to race away from workers.

Research from the Older Peoples Commissioner for Wales shows that life expectancy in Wales is already lower than the national average, and that people over 60 are more likely to be on much lower incomes than those under 60. Combined with an escalating retirement age and the possibility of work-induced ill health, the idea of a happy retirement is becoming a pipe dream for more and more people.

The difficulties facing older workers cannot be allowed to continue. It is a badge of shame on our society that we allow workers to be ground down and then cast into hardship, struggling to bridge the gap between today and their eventual retirement.

We want older workers to be able to work without fear and to have the freedom and confidence to make employment work for them. In its report, the TUC sets out four broad aims of how we can achieve this:

  • Support for older workers who lose their jobs because of the economic impact of Covid-19. This should include wage subsidies for good quality, new jobs and funded training opportunities.
  • More support to help workers who need or choose to work later in life identify and get access to training or resources they need, and better rights to work flexibly.
  • Reform to the social security system so that it provides an adequate safety net for workers of all ages, and with increased flexibility around how retirement age benefits are accessed.
  • Shelving planned increases to the state pension age beyond the current level of 66 and setting up a cross-party commission to establish a new consensus on the state pension age that takes into account trends in longevity improvements and health inequalities across the population.

But it doesn’t stop there. By 2025 it is estimated that 1 in 3 Welsh workers will be over the age of 50, and this demands changes to our workplaces to accommodate these shifting demographics.

We want to push employers to enact more age-friendly workplace policies, tackle age-based discrimination in the workplace and create inclusive, sustainable environments for all workers.

It’s a fact of life that growing older comes to us all, so the struggles of older workers are something we all need to take notice of.

If you’d like to find out more, you can download our Older Workers Toolkit for advice and resources that you can use in your workplace. You can also watch our toolkit event launch, featuring discussions with older workers and Heléna Herklots CBE, Older Peoples Commissioner for Wales.