The Missing Million: Pathways back into employment – the second in our series – examines the paths that older people take as they seek re-employment, shedding light on these journeys and identifying the predominant obstacles and barriers that continue to keep labour force participation so low among people aged 50+ in the UK.

The first report in our series, The Missing Million: Illuminating the employment challenges of the over 50s, highlighted the large number of people aged 50-64 who are out of work involuntarily – pushed out through a combination of redundancy, ill health, or early retirement. This sizable cohort is still willing to work yet are prevented from doing so. And while this early exit can be of great cost to the individuals in terms of lost earnings, savings, and social connections, it also represents a waste of talent, skills, and expertise that could be of great economic and social benefit. But what is needed to help older people return to work after they find themselves jobless?

We found that among people aged 50-64 in the UK:

  • The vast majority had no change in economic activity over a three-month period – but around half a million (4.5%) did experience a change of some kind, offering insights into the kinds of opportunities available to this group and the kinds of pathways they follow.
  • The most frequent change was from employment to inactivity (29.5%), and overall a greater number of older people lost work than found it (45.4% versus 30.5%). In contrast, younger people (16-29) were more likely to find work, while both younger and middle-aged (30-49) people were more likely to be actively looking for work than older people.
  • At the same time, older people who lose their job are just as likely as other age groups to look for another one, and around a quarter of older people who lost their job and became inactive would prefer to still be working. This means that, across the three-month period, around 38,000 people aged 50-64 in the UK lost their job and did not look for work even though they had the desire to keep working, suggesting that older people feel a significant degree of discouragement with respect to their labour market prospects.
  • Although more people ended up jobless, nearly a third of those who changed moved into employment from either unemployment or inactivity – around 161,000 people. Interestingly, a large proportion of these moved out of retirement.

The report also finds that successful returns to work are not only into traditional employment with an employer or self-employment, but also into government schemes and unpaid work, raising concerns around whether the opportunities older people find for work are appropriate. The report also examines the barriers that exist to re-employment for older people, highlighting how age itself continues to serve as a main obstacle to finding work while official support may not be providing the appropriate guidance and advice that older people need.

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