It’s time for a City Hall mayoral campaign to tackle ageism in the workplace, highlight the benefits to businesses of older workers and promote “age-friendly” employment practices, older people’s advocacy groups have urged.
That was the call as the London Assembly economy committee quizzed experts last week about challenges to living standards and financial security faced by older Londoners, including barriers to work and “digital exclusion”, in the context of rising poverty rates and economic inactivity on the part of Londoners aged over 50.
At 25 per cent, poverty levels among older Londoners are the highest in the country,” said Abigail Wood, chief executive of campaign group Age UK London (pictured). This compares to 18 per cent in the rest of England. The figure for over-50s has been increasing steadily over the past decade, fuelled by higher housing costs than elsewhere – 34 per cent of older Londoners live in private rented homes – along with ill health and a higher proportion of older single- person households.
The committee heard that Londoners still tend to work later into life than people in the rest of country, with the highest rate of over-65s in work at 14 per cent. However, the capital has not been immune to the trend of growing economic inactivity since the pandemic, particularly those in their late 50s and early 60s, due partly to ill-health but also to early retirement.
“We have a labour market gap. We have to find ways to get more people into work,” said Hackney Council policy chief Sonia Khan. “Employers need to be more age-friendly. There should be some buzz about this, some excitement that there is this pool of people who offer so much, tackling skills shortages and improving productivity. We need to shift perceptions to emphasise the positive benefits of having older workers.”
Tim Whitaker from the Wise Age charity, which specialises in supporting over-50s into work and helping employers to become age-friendly, said Sadiq Khan “missed an opportunity” to designate older people as a specific target group when setting out his London Recovery Board “missions” for post-Covid recovery. “The Mayor should now be stimulating debate, taking a lead with a campaign against ageism – the elephant in the room – and about the benefits of employing older workers, and age-friendly employment,” he told the committee.
Wood also called for free travel for older Londoners before 9am on the Transport for London network to be restored, and for a renewed campaign to encourage take up of Pension Credit. The benefit, providing extra help for low income pensioners, currently goes unclaimed by one in five eligible Londoners.
Digital exclusion in an increasingly online world, causing problems from managing online job searches and recruitment to accessing cheaper energy deals and claiming benefits, was also highlighted. Age UK London has estimated that some 200,000 Londoners aged over 75 have never been online. London Councils office of technology and innovation (LOTI) figures show that more than 1.6 million Londoners lack basic digital skills.
While LOTI’s Get Online London service is currently working to provide access to refurbished devices, free mobile connectivity and digital skills training, research earlier this year by Age UK London suggested that almost a third of 29 London councils surveyed did not offer non-online ways to apply for Council Tax or Housing Benefit, and a quarter did not offer offline applications for Blue Badges.
The discussion took place as London TravelWatch, the capital’s transport watchdog, warned that some 1.5 million older and disabled Londoners were being left behind by an increasingly “digital first” approach to public transport ticketing and journey planning. Research by the watchdog has suggested one in six Londoners are unable to buy a ticket because they can’t use or don’t have access to a smartphone or internet connection, with a further one in five reporting paying more for travel because they were not able to buy tickets online or via a mobile app.
“Many disabled and older Londoners have embraced new technologies in recent years, but our research shows that a digital-first transport network disadvantages some of our most vulnerable citizens,” said London TravelWatch chief executive Michael Roberts at the meeting. “A one-size-fits-all approach by transport providers does not work for a large section of London’s population.”
The London TravelWatch report calls for non-digital options to be maintained, with more help and advice available from TfL and train operators for digitally-excluded travellers and online discounts made available offline also.
The full Assembly economy committee meeting can be viewed here.
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