Will Rishi's Restart scheme help older jobseekers?
Rishi Sunak's Government Spending Review outlined a 'Restart' scheme designed to help people struggling to get back into work, but it's not yet clear how it will address the particular challenges faced by over 50s workers, who are more likely to face long term unemployment.
Our Associate Director for Work, Kim Chaplain, says older jobseekers must be given the right support in the wake of COVID-19 to ensure they don’t fall out of the labour market for good.
The night before Rishi Sunak’s scaled-back Spending Review speech, the Financial Times foreshadowed the announcement of a ‘Restart’ programme, which would help older jobseekers struggling to get back into work. As history tells us, this group is more likely to bear the scars of a recession by slipping into long term unemployment. Finally, it seemed, this issue and the challenges faced by older workers were starting to get the recognition and focus from government we know is desperately needed.
On the day, there was no mention of how the scheme would help older jobseekers in particular, so it seems we’ll have to wait a little while longer for that detail. I am hopeful though that the Restart Programme could provide the framework within which the right response for workers in this older age group can be crafted. It’s important for our economy and for the individuals concerned that we do not let this slip – and at the Centre for Ageing Better we would be happy to help where we can.
Prior to COVID-19 the employment rate amongst the over 50s was rising. As healthy life expectancy increased more people were looking to extend their working life with the result that nearly third of the workforce was over 50. In March this year 41% of men and 32% of women were still working at 65. Back then we also knew that 300,000 people aged between 50 and 65 were out of work but wanted to work. We cannot hide from the fact that as a population the UK is ageing and we need people to remain active for longer for our economy to work.
We all welcomed the extension of furlough for what will be a full 12 months, but as much as it is helping, it is also masking the reality of who actually has a job to return to and who is effectively redundant.
Over the summer we saw that furlough had affected younger workers and older workers more than the people in the middle age range but by September we could also see that older workers were the least likely to have returned to work when rules were relaxed. It is tempting to think that these people are taking time to sort out their retirement options, but our research shows that COVID-19 has adjusted older workers’ expectations. Significantly, a minority of older workers employed immediately before the crisis are now retired: 6% of those aged 66-70 and 11% of those aged 71 and older, but one in eight (13%) of over 50s have changed their retirement plans as a result of the pandemic. 8% planning to retire later (tend to have seen their pensions value decrease, and/or working from home). 5% planning to retire earlier (tend to be wealthier and/or those furloughed).
In March this year 41% of men and 32% of women were still working at 65.
The upshot of all this is that in March 2021 we are likely to see a large number of older jobseekers flowing off furlough to look for work who have not been near the labour market in over 12 months. Many from lower income groups will need to work for longer than they had previously anticipated because their pension value has reduced. It’s also likely that they will be coming out of sectors that are in decline and so many will need to reskill to move into a new sector. By then they are likely to have many of the characteristics that develop with being long-term unemployed, such as a loss of confidence and a need to brush up digital skills. However, media coverage suggested that under the proposed Restart Programme, they wouldn’t be eligible for support for a further 12 months.
This doesn’t seem logical. We must not repeat mistakes of the past and instead think about how we can head off the risk of long-term unemployment by getting to these individuals sooner. Perhaps the period of furlough should be aggregated into eligibility criteria for programmes?
This group will be large enough and important enough to merit a tailored service, which could include products such as pensions advice which are specific, perhaps even exclusive to the group.
And whatever the service or system of support, it needs to key into a receptive network of employers. Most importantly it needs to meet employer needs and help them run their business. I can remember when Jobcentre Plus offered a recruitment service to employers, which not only helped them fill their vacancies, it provided in-work support to embed the individual in a career. Somewhere along the way this link up with employers has been lost. If ever there was a time to get it back it is now. In designing the detail of the Restart programme, separate resources need to be focused on building up the employer interface. This is not a job for work coaches – Jobcentre Plus needs a platform of skilled people whose role it is to establish a conversation with employers and to understand and interpret what they need. This will help every jobseeker, of every age, to find the right job and hopefully help create some truly creative, diverse and inclusive workplaces in which they can work.