We’ve seen a marked change in the way we think about work and retirement in the UK. More people in their 50s and beyond are embracing part-time jobs. But is this a choice or a necessity? Let’s break down the recent findings from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and see what the experts have to say.
Rising Numbers: A Glance at the Statistics
According to the ONS:
- 25% of workers in their 50s are now working part-time.
- A whopping 3.6 million people over 50 have part-time roles. That’s a 12% rise since 2021, a 26% leap over the last decade, and a staggering 56% growth over the last two decades.
- When you look at part-time workers across the UK, 42% are aged over 50.
- As people approach the state pension age of 66, part-time work becomes more common: 40% of 60-64-year-olds and 66% of those aged over 65 have part-time jobs.
- Interestingly, more men aged 66 and above are working part-time than women – this group saw a 22% rise in just a year.
A Shift in Perspective: What’s Behind the Trend?
Stuart Lewis, who leads Rest Less, a platform dedicated to those over 50, provides some insight. “We’re moving away from the traditional model of working a 9-5 job for decades and then suddenly retiring. Instead, people are choosing a more gradual transition into retirement,” he says. This phased approach isn’t just about finances; it’s also better for our mental health, maintaining social connections, and general well-being.
As a third of the UK’s workforce now surpasses the age of 50, offering flexible and part-time work isn’t just a kind gesture by employers – it’s becoming essential.
The Quality of Part-Time Work: A Concern for Many
However, Dr. Emily Andrews from the Centre for Ageing Better raises an alarm. She points out that part-time work, more often than not, equates to lower-quality, lower-skilled jobs. For the UK to boost productivity, it’s crucial to offer good, high-skilled roles to part-timers. “If job adverts clearly mention the minimum number of working hours, employers might be pleasantly surprised by the quality of candidates they attract,” she suggests.
Chris Walsh, CEO of Wise Age, a charity supporting over-50s employment, echoes this sentiment. He argues that many older workers are trapped in part-time roles not out of choice, but because of rampant ageism, especially in recruitment. This involuntary part-time work, Walsh warns, can lead to long-term financial struggles.
Moreover, Walsh draws attention to a ‘hidden demographic’ of around a million older individuals. These are people actively looking for work but aren’t on the official records – they might be surviving on pension credits, personal savings, or have a working partner. Because they aren’t eligible for support from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), they often go unnoticed.
Finding the Balance: Flexibility and Fair Opportunity
Caroline Abrahams from Age UK sums up the scenario perfectly: While flexibility and the option to work part-time are crucial for many older workers, it’s vital to ensure they’re choosing this path, rather than being forced down it due to lack of full-time opportunities. Fighting ageism and ensuring that suitable roles are available for the over-50s is as important as promoting flexibility.
Conclusion: A Call to Rethink Work and Retirement
The rising trend of part-time work among those over 50 reflects a broader shift in our views on work and retirement. But as we navigate this changing landscape, it’s essential to ensure that quality, choice, and fairness remain at the heart of our employment policies.