2014 Was All About Age
For many the New Year provides an opportunity for resolution making. Some might sign up to a gym to burn off those extra roast potatoes, whilst others will resolve to finally take those French lessons they have been meaning to take for so long.
The New Year does provide the perfect opportunity to reflect on the year that has passed as well as to make resolutions and prophesise as to what the New Year will bring. This is certainly true in the context of age related issues.
2014 was truly all about age! The Government published its Fuller Working Lives Document, Ros Altmann was appointed as the Government's Business Champion for Older Workers (popularly known as the "Age Tsar") and the right to request flexible working was extended to all qualifying employees, partly with the aim of supporting older workers.
In truth these age related developments only provide a snapshot of what was a hugely significant year for age related issues, specifically those relating to older workers. In 2014 both the Government and business began to increasingly focus on how to provide for an ageing workforce. However, more importantly the Government began to appreciate that if an ageing workforce is provided for, this will provide massive benefits to the economy and society as a whole.
In June 2014 the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) published the paper "Fuller Working Lives - A Framework for Action" which directly addressed the issues of ageing in the context of the workplace. The importance of this document cannot be overstated. The paper shifted the conversation about an ageing workforce away from one focused on "working until you drop" to one which focuses on the wider benefits to the economy and society provided by people aged 50 and over staying in work until the (ever increasing) State Pension age and beyond.
In June 2014 the right to request flexible working was extended to all employees who have the relevant qualifying service, not just employees with parental responsibility for a child or caring responsibilities for an adult. With the abolition of the default retirement age and increasing evidence that millions are worryingly short in pension savings, it is likely that employers will see a significant number of requests for flexible working from older employees. The concept of four-generation working (with workers spanning the generations) will become increasingly common and older workers particularly will make use of flexible working arrangements.
In July 2014 Ros Altmann was appointed as the Government's Older Workers' Champion. Ros Altmann is not only committed to promoting the rights and benefits of older people in the workplace but she is also committed to tackling age discrimination in a wider sense. She has spoken out against discriminatory job adverts, which seek "recent graduates", believing this to be age discriminatory. More recently she has suggested that road signs depicting the elderly as frail are age discriminatory and perpetuate outdated and indeed false stereotypes. Ros is not only a champion for older workers, but for older people more generally and will bring an increasing focus to the issues facing this population in 2015.
New Age Resolutions
What developments can we expect this year? Thankfully no crystal ball is required and in brief more of the same can be expected. There will be a continued commitment from both Government and business to provide for an ever ageing workforce.
From April the Government is rolling out an older workers champion scheme across the UK to tackle age discrimination. Intensive work support will be offered. There will be a "career review" with a dedicated expert to recognise transferrable skills from previous jobs and assist where any skills gaps require filling. There will also be digital support for older jobseekers to get online and there will be link-ups with local small and medium sized businesses with vacancies to fill. Businesses are also likely to be encouraged to be proactive in this area, and those that do so will single themselves out as "employers of choice".
The Department for Work and Pensions point out that 1 in 6 men who reach State Pension age have not worked since they were 55 and almost half (47%) of all unemployed people between 50 and 64 have been out of work for a year or more - this compares with 33% for those aged 18 to 24. If the 1.2 million people over 50 who want to get back into the workplace were supported to achieve their ambition, it could add £50 billion to the economy. This aim is increasingly forming part of the Government's long-term economic plan and is very likely to remain so, whether we see a change of colour in Westminster in May of this year or not.
One in three babies born today will live to the grand old age of 100. A baby born today will be fortunate enough to enjoy many a New Year celebration and some things will never change - resolutions will be made and French will either be finally learnt or left until "next year". However, one thing that will change over the years is that the working landscape for older workers will be increasingly flexible, accommodating and ultimately fulfilling. We are thankfully living longer and a healthier life which is altering the economic and social fabric of our workplaces, and the Government and private business cannot afford to ignore this. So expect to experience this significant and enduring social shift, not only in Government Policy or in Thomson Reuter's articles, but in your own workplaces and even your own families.
Happy New Year!
Senior Associate, Human Resources Group
Follow @allaboutage on twitter.
This article was written by Ruth Ormston in Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co's Combined Human Resource Solutions team and published on Thomson Reuters.