By Claire West
Every worker should be able to do their job flexibly unless a business can justify otherwise, according to a new Age UK report out yesterday.
Age UK’s call comes in ' A Means to Many Ends', its report into the impact and availability of flexible working in the UK.
Flexible working practices include working from home, doing flexitime or different working hours, or simply being able to swap shifts.
Age UK believes that an important way to unleash the full potential of Britain’s older workers, many of whom are unable to work conventional hours because of caring responsibilities and the need to balance other personal issues with work, is to change the UK’s traditional and more rigid approach to work.
These changes, the charity says, would enable older people to use their years of experience to contribute to the economy and extend their working lives. This would also de-stigmatise flexible working and encourage employers to examine how the practice could benefit their organisation.
Call for automatic right to flexible working
As part of this culture change, Age UK is also calling for all new and prospective employees to automatically have the right to request flexible working. Currently they must wait until 26 weeks in the job before making a request.
Angela Williams, Human Resources Director at British Gas, and Sarah Jackson OBE, Chief Executive of Working Families will be among the speakers responding to the report at its launch at the QE2 centre in London.
Age UK’s Charity Director General, Michelle Mitchell said, 'With their skills and knowledge, older workers are an invaluable asset to the UK economy. Yet, far too many people aged 50 and over are locked out of the job market because they are unable to work conventional hours, often because they have to care for a relative or have health issues.
'In these tough economic times when the UK needs to make the most of its resources, it is just common sense for the Government and employers to embrace flexible working.'
Government is committed to extending right to request flexible working
The law currently entitles parents with children under the age of 16 and those with caring responsibilities to request flexible working. Last August the Government issued a consultation document on extending the right to request to all employees but this has yet to be made law.
The new Minister for Employment Relations, Jo Swinson, who is speaking at the conference said: 'Flexible working can deliver real benefits to businesses and workers, bringing a wider pool of skills into the workplace, boosting morale and increasing productivity.
'Part of our plan to get the economy growing is rebalancing the economy and that includes making sure we make the most of the all the talents available to the UK. This is why the Government is committed to extending the right to request flexible working to all employees.
'Flexibility for older workers would help both employee and employer, ensuring we don't lose valuable skills and experience whilst helping to manage the move towards retirement. We will publish our plans on a more flexible approach to working shortly.'
735,000 people aged 50+ want to work but economically active
According to Age UK’s report, there are currently nearly 900,000 people in the UK working past the age of 64 and nearly 8 million people aged 50-64 who are economically active. But a further 735,000 people aged 50 and over want to work but are economically inactive. Factors including the UK’s ageing population, rising State Pension age and poor private pension return, mean in the future this number is likely to get even bigger.
While the Government has abolished the default retirement age, it needs to go further to create an environment that enables older workers to stay in the labour market.
Age UK's flexible working report - 'A Means to Many Ends'
Age UK’s report examines the extent and need for flexible working in the UK among older people and contains new analyses of the Labour Force Survey.
Major findings include:
38 per cent of those in employment aged 50 plus worked flexibly in 2010 up from 30 per cent in 2005. But the figures hide the lack of flexible working in various industries.
Older workers in the public sector are most likely to work flexibly.
People in lower supervisory and routine jobs are less likely to be granted flexible working than those in managerial or professional roles.
As these findings suggest, flexible working is still not widely accepted as an option across the labour market.
Carers are less likely to be able to access flexible working options than other groups, for example those coming back from maternity leave.
25 per cent of carers under the age of 70 report that caring responsibilities affect their work. Of these, 39 per cent left employment altogether.
There are particular barriers at the recruitment phase especially for those who are unemployed and need to be able to work flexibly from the outset.