Quarter of men are out of work after 55

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The Independent Online
One in four men aged over 55 - and virtually half of men aged over 60 - is no longer in work, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation warned yesterday as it launched a wide-ranging research project on the future of employment.

Redundancy and forced early retirement - as well as people wishing to retire earlier - are cutting men off early from the world of work at considerable cost, said Pam Meadows, director of the Policy Studies Institute, who is acting as adviser to the project.

Companies and the public were losing expertise; those affected received heavily reduced pensions; and individuals were facing 20 years and more of healthy life with nothing to do, she said.

Yet 30 years ago, more than 95 per cent of those aged between 55 and 59 and more than 90 per cent of those aged between 60 and 64 were still economically active, while one-quarter worked on past 65. Now, fewer than one in ten does.

Available figures make it hard to distinguish between those who have voluntarily retired early and those forced out of work, she said. "For many people, it can be a face-saving formula to say they have retired early," she said. But in the late 1980s boom, when unemployment fell, more over-55s returned to the workforce, showing that many wished to continue working "maybe not full-time or in such heavy work as before, but it was clear a lot of them wanted jobs".

Employers and the labour market, she said, were in fact increasingly discriminating against men, with work shifting from the old and the young to those aged 25 to 50, and from men to women. Part- time women workers were being preferred to full-time men.

Older workers had been targeted for redundancy, partly because early retirement packages were easier to arrange, but also in the mistaken belief that older workers were hard to retrain and less flexible.

But Ms Meadows said that the greater experience and commitment they often brought to organisations and the "collective memory" which was shed as older workers departed were overlooked. This experience could often prevent employers in both the public and private sectors repeating their past mistakes.

"Older workers are unnecessarily being put on the scrap heap," she said. "If you were in an aeroplane when something went wrong, would you rather have a 50-year-old pilot or a 25-year-old who had never been in this position before?"

The plight of the older worker will form one part of a research programme on work, which was launched with a warning that mass unemployment would continue into the next century unless those who had jobs were prepared to pay for its reduction.