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Older workers are starting to 'unretire'

Older employee standing at a supermarket checkout

The cost of living crisis is leading many older workers to reconsider their decision to leave the world of work.

Additional motivations driving the apparent trend towards 'unretirement' include missing the sense of satisfaction that work brings and spending the day with colleagues and customers, according to research by Rest Less, a digital community and advocate for people in their 50s, 60s and beyond.

Official labour market data shows that the number of over-50s either in work or looking for work has reached the highest level since January to March 2020 -- indicating a return to the long-term trend of more economically active people aged over 50.

Economic activity levels amongst over-50s hit a peak of just over 11 million in the three-month period from December 2019 to February 2020. Numbers then fell by as much as 223,000 during the pandemic.

In March-May 2022 there was an increase of 116,000 in the number of over-50s in work or looking for work, compared with the same period last year.

Men aged 65 and over represented the biggest share, with an 8.5% increase in economic activity in one year, alongside a 6.8% increase for women over 65. Activity levels for those aged 50-64 increased by a much smaller 0.13%.

Additionally, in a survey in March this year, the ONS asked more than 12,000 50-70 year olds who were not currently looking for work if they would consider going back to work in the future. One in three (33%) 50-64 year olds and one in 10 (10%) of those aged 65+ said they would.

These findings are backed up by a poll by Rest Less among 500 retired people in June 2022, with 32% saying they would consider returning to work at some point or that they were already working again after retirement.

Of those who said they would consider going back to work, 32% would return for the mental and social stimulation, 12% because of increases in the cost of living and 8% to top up their pensions. Almost half, 47%, said it would be a combination of all of these reasons.

"Older workers have been leaving the jobs market in their droves over the past two years, partly due to many re-evaluating what they want from their lives and careers during the course of the pandemic but also due to the devastating impact the pandemic has had on the prospects for many older job seekers, who felt they had no choice but to leave the workforce," said Stuart Lewis, chief executive of Rest Less.

"In some ways the pandemic forced the hands of many and gave them an opportunity to trial retirement. One member in his 60s decided to retire when the care home he was working in closed during the pandemic. Two years later, he is missing the social interaction that comes with work and is back on the job hunt.

"An early retirement can often seem like a dream when you're stuck in the thick of the daily grind but for many, giving up work abruptly can also result in a loss of structure, social connections and purpose which can leave people feeling lost at times. For example, we often forget just how much of our social network and contacts come from the work environment.

"At the same time, with spiralling inflation and volatile financial markets impacting pension funds, some people who thought they could retire comfortably during the pandemic are now having to unretire and find work again to bring in some extra income and top up their pensions whilst they still can."

Posted by Fidelius on August 1st 2022

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