Older workers are being hit by the gig economy: they’re working fewer hours and not by choice, according to new research.
While employment rates for older workers have increased in the UK, since the 2008 recession – as has been widely reported – the ‘hidden flip side’ is that the number of hours worked on average by older workers has declined, says the analysis by charity Age UK.
In its report, the charity warns that if policymakers only look at the headline employment rate for older workers they risk drawing too rosy a conclusion. It says that the employment figures can make it appear easy for older people to stay in well paid, secure work, whereas the reality for many is far less positive.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, says: “It is well known that many younger workers are finding themselves part of the ‘precariat’ – people whose work is highly insecure and unpredictable, often against their wishes – and now we are seeing evidence of the same thing happening to some older workers too.”
Age UK’s research finds that for a typical man aged 60 to 64 the number of hours worked had dropped by eight hours which is over 22 per cent, once personal characteristics have been controlled for.
In the 50-54 age group, there has been a 29 per cent decline in average hours worked each week since the 2008 recession from 42.25 to 30 hours. For women aged 50-54 there has been an 18 per cent drop, equating to 29.3 to 24.1 hours.
The analysis shows what the change in hours worked would have been if the original cohort had retained the same characteristics, for example the highest qualification level and marital status (both of which can have a substantial bearing on employment prospects), therefore looks beyond the headline employment rate.
There was also a decline over the same period in the average hours worked by women aged 50-64 in higher-skilled roles, although women in lower skilled roles have seen an increase in their average hours worked.
“It goes without saying that if you work fewer hours you will earn less,” says Abrahams. “For older workers who are compelled to do less work than they would like, it could make it a lot tougher to withstand any rise in State Pension Age, let alone have any spare income to save for their retirement.
The charity says this issue is particularly pertinent as the government is due to respond to John Cridland’s independent report into the state pension age.
“Looking ahead, we also think it is crucial that the State Pension continues to retain its value to give people more financial security so they can look forward to later life with confidence, not fear. For example, research has shown that abandoning the triple lock would significantly reduce the chance that someone with low earnings can retire with an adequate income,” says Abrahams.