According to a 2011 POST briefing* on the ageing workforce, low birth rates and increasing average life expectancies will lead to greater pressure on the working-age population to support retirees financially, and through care. One way to help reduce this pressure would be to encourage workers to delay retirement and remain in the labour market for longer if they are able and willing to do so.
According to the Equality Act 2010, which gives protection against various forms of discrimination, employers cannot dismiss older workers on the grounds of age. It is generally accepted that there are health and social benefits associated with staying active through work, provided the work itself isn’t a cause of ill health.
In recognition of the ageing workforce and the value of remaining active for longer, where possible, the Age Action Alliance (the alliance) was launched by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in September 2011. It is an independent alliance of organisations that has adopted a new approach to the problems caused by an ageing population, focusing specifically on ensuring social justice for older people.
The alliance is a partnership of organisations the public and private sectors, as well as not-for-profit and voluntary organisations, which celebrates the lives of older people and their contribution to society. It strives to pool its diverse skills to improve the lives of the most disadvantaged older people and prevent deprivation in later life. The alliance has a ‘Healthy Workplaces’ employment sub-group, aimed at helping employers support healthy productive people in the workplace, leading in turn to healthier people outside the workplace.
An ageing workforce will mean a different set of potential health issues in the workplace. Maintaining the health of employees is part of the role of employers, but many are not familiar with the issues of how work can affect health, and how people’s health conditions can affect their ability to work. Fit for Work offers free resources to help GPs, employers and employees when dealing with work-related health issues. The advice service went live in December 2014 and offers an advice hub (information and guidance about work-related health topics), live chat instant messaging, and opportunities to ask questions. Furthermore, employed people who have been (or are likely to be) off work for four weeks or more, can be referred to Fit for Work by their GP for a free, professional occupational assessment aimed at identifying obstacles preventing them from returning to work.
* POST is an office of both Houses of Parliament, charged with providing independent and balanced analysis of policy issues that have a basis in science and technology.