A post-Brexit approach: understanding of the needs of an older workforce

Rachael Saunders, Age at Work Director, Business in the Community, calls for a better understanding of the job insecurity, low pay and barriers to fulfilling work experienced by many older workers. 


At the Business in the Community AGM last week, both our chair Antony Jenkins and our Chief Executive Amanda MacKenzie spoke about the sense of dislocation that led to the Brexit vote, and the renewed imperative for business leaders to better understand the communities they serve.
Older people voted in greater numbers for Brexit than those younger than them – according to YouGov, 75% of voters under 24 voted remain, whilst 61% of those over 65 voted leave.  We are also told that people with people with less educational qualifications were more likely to vote leave.  
Connect this with our growing understanding of age at work.  

Rachael Saunders
Our Missing Million research with ILC-UK told us that there are a million people between 50-65 in the UK out of work, who would like a job.  It also told us that the local authority areas with high employment rates for older people also had higher employment rates for young people and vice versa – older people out of work are one indicator of local labour market issues.  They do not crowd out young people.  

We also now know that, over 50, pay declines.  So those older people that are in work are, on average paid less – even if you only look at full-time jobs.  

From our work with the Centre for Ageing Better  and wider research, such as the British Social Attitudes survey data, we know that older people are feeling greater insecurity in work .  77% of workers aged 18-34 felt they had job security, compared to 53% of people aged 55-64.  This is new – ten years ago, the numbers were much closer.  
This increased sense of insecurity also maps into occupation type.  60% of people in routine and semi-routine occupations feel secure in work, down 11% from ten years ago.  Compared to 67% of those in a professional and managerial role, up 2% from 2005.
In a knowledge economy, older workers are particularly at risk. The recent expansion of higher education means that in the 18-39 age group, 30% have a degree.  26% of 40-59 year olds have degrees, but only 15% of those aged 60 or over – although the percentage for that age group has increased from 5% in 1984.  In an economy where knowledge skills are ever more important, older workers are vulnerable.  

I am not trying to reinvent myself as a psephologist – but many experts have a made a connection between a sense of anger, or lack of hope, about economic prospects, and voters choosing to vote for Brexit, or Trump, as a way of kicking against the perceived establishment.  

At the Business in the Community Summit, Antony Jenkins spoke about the importance of business better understanding the needs of communities, post Brexit.  I believe our work on better understanding the barriers to work, low pay and job insecurity for older people is a good starting point.