Around one in eight people are forced to quit work in the five years leading up to state pension age, due to illness and/or disability, according to a new report by the Trade Union Congress (TUC).
New research by the TUC, who represent almost 5.8 million workers from 51 trade unions, found that nearly half a million (436,000) workers approaching state pension age have had to leave the workplace due to illness and/or disability.
The shocking findings also reveal a stark and worrying North-South divide. Only around 1 in 13 workers in the South West and 1 in 11 in the South East of England cite illness and/or disability as a reason for giving up work prior to reaching state pension age, compared to 1 in 7 in Yorkshire and the Humber, the North East, the North West, Wales and Scotland and 1 in 4 in Northern Ireland. The TUC says this reflects health inequalities across the UK.
The state pension age is increasing for both men and women, reaching 66 by October 2020 and rising further to 67 between 2026 and 2028. The government has promised to review the state pension age every 5 years.
TUC’s report – Postponing the pension: are we all working longer? – also reveals that those who have worked in the lowest paid jobs – including cleaners, carers, those working in the leisure industry and those doing heavy manual jobs – are twice as likely to stop working before retirement age due to sickness and disability than managers or professionals.
Workers aged over 50 now make up one in three (30%) of the workforce – up from less than one in four (24%) in 2000. The report finds that nearly half (49%) of 60 to 64 year olds stopped working before their official retirement age.
The TUC says raising State Pension age to reflect how more people are living longer is over-simplistic and has made the following recommendations:
- A right to flexible working from day one in a job. Allowing all staff to request flexible working from day one (you currently need to have been in post for 26 weeks) would allow workers scope to develop a working pattern that suits both their needs and their employers.
- A right to retraining for older workers should be introduced, with paid time off work to learn new skills. Subsidies could encourage employers to welcome this.
- Giving workers statutory entitlement to carers leave. Women are less likely than men to be economically active by the time they reach 50 as the burden of caring for younger or older relatives falls on women.
- Expanding auto-enrolment into the pensions system. This has brought an additional six million people in the workplace pensions system but millions, most of them women, miss out on employer contributions because they earn less than the earnings trigger.
- Giving workers a right to a mid-life career review. An increased focus on health issues in the reviews, such as advice about free NHS health-checks for 40-74 years olds, could help workers identify current and potential health problems and work with employers on managing them.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Raising the state pension age is an easy target for chancellors of the exchequer wanting to make stealth cuts. But these figures show that we must hold off on any further rises in the pension age until we have worked out how to support the 1 in 8 workers who are too ill to work before they even get to state pension age.
“People should be able to retire in dignity with a decent pension when the time is right. Older workers have a crucial role to play in the labour market but we can’t expect the sick to wait longer to get a pension when they may need financial support more than ever.”