By Claire West

A record number of people are retiring early as many firms force more experienced workers out of the competitive job market, official figures have revealed.

The Office for National Statistics revealed between September and November there were 1.56 million retired people under 65, which is 39,000 more than the previous quarter, according to Labour Market statistics.

Charities and campaigners explained that more seasoned employees are often 'first in line' for redundancies, which is why there has been an increase in early retirement.

They said companies targeted this group for redundancy because they are likely to be on higher salaries than younger employees.

Experts have pointed out that this workplace trend goes against Government policy for people to be encouraged to work later on in life.

Measures such as the abolition of the Default Retirement Age in April, which allows companies to retire staff at 65, will be put in place to allow workers to carry on as long as they want to.

The State Pension Age will also be increased to 65 for women by 2018 and from 65 to 66 for both men and women by 2020.

Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director at Age UK, said: 'As 2011 unfolds, hundreds of thousands of older workers are facing job cuts and rising inflation, with the risk of long-term unemployment looming.

'Long-term unemployment after 50 is a devastating way to end a working life. It can blow a hole in financial plans for a secure retirement, so it is vital that older workers who lose their jobs are given sufficient training options and support to find work quickly.

'The Government needs to help by promoting the benefits of older workers to employers, ensuring the needs of older workers are reflected in employment programmes and supporting self-employment.'