By Daniel Hunter
Areas as diverse as Watford, north Dorset and the Shetland Islands are leading the charge against outdated stereotypes of older workers and flying the flag for fuller working lives, new figures reveal.
They are among local authority districts across Great Britain with the highest rates of employment amongst older workers, according to new information collated by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Watford, home to the headquarters of several major companies, boasts the highest estimated employment rate amongst 50 to 64s.
Latest figures for April 2013 and March 2014 show Watford recorded 89.5% of this age group in work. The Shetlands followed closely on 88.3% and north Dorset on 87.2%.
Other high-performing areas include Stroud in Gloucestershire (85.3%), south Northamptonshire (84.6%), Horsham in Sussex (84.2%), and Tandridge in Surrey (84.2%). The remainder of the top ten is made up by east Northamptonshire (84.1%), Broxbourne in Hertfordshire (83.2%) and Stevenage in Hertfordshire (83.0%).
DWP Minister Steve Webb said: "The business case for ignoring outdated and inaccurate stereotypes and giving older workers a chance to thrive is absolutely compelling, and these figures show that in some parts of the country that message is being received loud and clear. What we must do now is extend the positive record we’re seeing in counties like Hertfordshire across the whole of the UK.
"If we want to ensure people have comfortable retirements, that business thrives and that our economy continues to recover, then equality of employment opportunity for older workers isn’t just a ‘nice to have’, it is essential.
"Another crucial point is that a person dropping out of the workforce early can have a devastating effect on their retirement income. We owe it to people to do everything possible to ensure they can benefit from a full working life."
Dr Ros Altmann, the government’s Business Champion for Older Workers, said: "Older workers have a huge amount to offer any workforce. They generally have unrivalled life and work experience, often boast a broad range of skills and, according to many employers I’ve spoken to, tend to display great attitude and work ethic.
"Of course, there can be unique challenges faced by older workers — particularly in manual or strenuous jobs — but there is no reason why a person in their 50s or 60s cannot re-train to take on a different role with their existing employer, cut down their working hours, or even opt for a complete career change.
"We need to get rid of the traditional stereotype which suggests that people over 50 are too old to learn or change and are expected not to work, even if they want to. There can be a world of opportunities for older workers which can enrich their lives and also boost our economy."
As well as highlighting the areas with the best records, the figures also show those places with the furthest to go to develop a labour market which makes full use of the skills and experience of their older working age population.
Areas in which around half of older workers are out of work include Hyndburn in Lancashire (48.1%), Rossendale in Lancashire (48.2%), west Somerset (49.2%), Tower Hamlets in London (50.6%) and Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria (51.7%).
The prevalence of particular industries can make the challenge of providing equal opportunities for older workers more difficult in some areas of the country than others.
In types of work where this is the case, the government is keen to encourage employers to consider the benefits of retraining or altering the role of older employees, in order to keep their skills and experience on board.
Earlier this year, the government launched Fuller Working Lives, a piece of research and analysis highlighting the vast benefits that could be reaped by individuals, industry and the overall economy by tackling unemployment and economic inactivity amongst the over-50s. It also set out some of the specific factors which can often lead to older workers being forced out — or kept out — of employment early, before they reach State Pension age.
This followed landmark changes previously brought in by the coalition government to abolish the default retirement age — which previously forced many people to give up work before they felt ready — and extend the right to request flexible working to all employees.
The DWP is also promoting retraining opportunities available to older jobseekers through the Jobcentre Plus network.
There are around 650,000 vacancies waiting to be filled in the UK economy at any one time, with continuing economic growth creating new ones every day.
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