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Unemployment Rates 2021: Women Over 65

Unemployment Rates 2021: Women Over 65

Frequent readers of the didlaw blog will have seen our focus on the disproportionate adverse impact of the pandemic on some groups.  Now the spotlight has swiveled to focus on women over 65 years old.

According to data released from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) last week, the unemployment rate in women over the age of 65 has increased three-fold since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Analysis showed that in the March to May period in 2020 the unemployment level for this age group of women was 7,200 (1.2%) compared to a rate of 21,000 (3.8%) exactly one year later.  Similarly, a further 151,000 women between the age of 50 and 65 were out of a job between March and May this year.

The data also highlights stats from this same period showing that the unemployment level among this 65+ age group is higher than the level for men of the same demographic for the first time since 2016.

Stuart Lewis, founder of the organisation Rest Less which analysed the data said there were far too many women in their sixties stuck between a rock and a hard place.  They can’t find a job due to rampant age discrimination, but they can’t yet claim their state pension either, which puts them in an extremely vulnerable position as they approach retirement.”

So why has this demographic been impacted so much in the last year or so? Some commentators recognise the increased burden of caring responsibilities for this group of women with some caring for ill partners, parents or grandchildren and struggling to juggle these commitments with their work.  

Age discrimination is the other likely factor.

Under the Equality Act 2010 age is one of the nine protected characteristics.  Job applicants as well as those in work are protected from unlawful discrimination which can take a number of forms:

  • Direct discrimination – where one is treated less favourably because of their age.
  • Indirect discrimination – where a provision, criterion, or practice (PCP) is applied that disadvantages job applicants or employees of a particular age group without objective justification. One example is advertising a role requiring at least five GCSEs without indicating any equivalent qualifications.
  • Age related harassment – where someone receives unwanted conduct related to their age which has the purpose or effect of violating their dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.  It can also be harassment “related to age” where, because of one’s age, they can feel sidelined or targeted.
  • Victimization takes place where a job applicant or worker makes a complaint of age discrimination and then they are treated less favorably by the employer because of raising that concern.

An ACAS guide on age discrimination in the workplace can be accessed here.

In October 2020, the state pension age increased to 66 for men and women born between 6 October 1954 and 5 April 1960.  For anyone born after these dates, there will be a phased increase in the state pension age to 67 by 2028 and eventually 68 between 2037 and 2039.   This is controversial.  Indeed, some are campaigning to the lower the state pension age back to 60 for men and women in order to provide more employment opportunities for younger people.

On a positive note, last week the ONS revealed that the current number of job vacancies now exceeds pre-pandemic levels with 862,000 vacancies in the second quarter of this year representing an increase of 39% compared to the previous quarter. Some industry experts are warning of resource and skills shortages.  So, with the furlough scheme being set to wind up (with predictions that one in ten women over 65 are benefiting from this), it is hoped that this will provide some opportunities for this group and others.

This blog is by Caroline Oliver, Senior Solicitor, didlaw.