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A lack of targeted support for older workers was a “massive omission” in the chancellor’s mini-budget, campaigners have warned amid a huge rise in over 50s claiming Universal Credit.
On Wednesday, Rishi Sunak used his summer statement to unveil a package of aid for young workers hit by the coronavirus pandemic – including a £2bn “kickstart scheme” to give under 25s on Universal Credit six-month job placements.
Employers will also receive grants for taking on trainees and apprentices, he announced, with more cash paid out for staff aged 24 and under.
But the chancellor has been urged to consider workers over the age of 50, with campaigners warning that this group faces long-term unemployment if they are not given targeted support.
“Pre-pandemic, workers aged over 50 were already more likely to be made redundant, to be in long-term unemployment and to have less access to workplace training,” said Stuart Lewis, founder of Rest Less, a jobs and advice site for older people.
According to analysis of Office for National Statistics (ONS) data by Rest Less, there has been a significant increase in the number of people aged 50 and over claiming Universal Credit since the UK went into lockdown, up from 304,000 in March to 660,000 in May.
Now, people in this age group who have lost their jobs during the pandemic face an up-hill battle to find work, Lewis suggested.
“Following today’s announcement... why would any company create a permanent role and hire a 61-year-old who has just been made redundant, when they could hire a 23-year-old for free on a temporary six month basis?”
“Given the known challenges facing the over 50s in the recruitment process, we expect hundreds of thousands of over 50s to be forced into an early retirement they cannot afford, living off Universal Credit until they reach the state pension age – which could be as long as 10 to15 years.
“The key thing for us is that this is not one group versus the other.
“Things needed to be done for younger people because they’re facing a real plight as well.
“It’s just this massive omission that nothing is being done for over 50s, especially over 60s.”
The government must invest in training for older people, Lewis said.
“Training is one of the big things,” he explained. “There’s a structural shift taking place in the workplace and Covid has basically accelerated all of those trends.
“How do we re-skill someone who might have been in manufacturing or retail for 30 years if they’re over 50? How do we re-skill and equip them for the jobs of the future?”
Ruth Slack, 56, has worked in marketing for years. She got a new job in digital marketing November – but was let go just days before the UK went into lockdown in March because of coronavirus.
She has been able to find a temporary role she can do from home – something she said she was lucky to find.
This stop-gap job “just about covers everything you need”, she said.
“I want to get back into marketing and communications but I haven’t got a role yet and basically every day I’m sitting here looking at all the job listings,” Slack said.
“I’ve got all this experience and I want to work and I enjoy working for the right company with the right people.”
She welcomed Sunak’s announcement of support for young people, with her 21-year-old son looking for an apprenticeship.
But she wants some specialised support for older workers affected by the pandemic.
“It’s hard,” Slack added. “I wish people would pay a bit more attention to older people. There has been nothing about older people from the government at all during this situation.”
Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds has also called on Sunak to consider the needs of the UK’s older workforce.
Responding to Sunak’s mini-budget, the Labour MP said: “The government must also recognise the specific challenges faced by older jobseekers, many of whom are becoming unemployed for the first time, and those based in especially hard-hit places.”
But in the Commons, Sunak said the government was introducing a £1,500 payment for businesses who take on an apprentice over the age of 25.
The chancellor said he was doing this “for the simple reason that while most people think of apprentices as young people, some 44% or so of new apprentice starts are actually over the age of 25”.
From August, businesses in England will get a £2,000 grant for hiring an apprentice aged 24 and under. They will get £1,500 for apprentices who are over 25.
Sunak added: “It is important that we provide that financial incentive at this time of economic distress, to try to create as many new apprenticeships as possible, including for those who are older.
“More broadly, the measures that I announced today—the jobs retention bonus for furloughed employees, the kick-start scheme, the VAT cut and the ‘eat out to help out’ discount—are all incredibly significant interventions and all of them benefit the entire United Kingdom.”