The number of older workers leaving their jobs has risen during the pandemic, reversing decades of steady gains for the over-50s in Britain’s workforce. With a record number of job vacancies, employment experts and campaigners say government and businesses could do more to support older people who would like to work. We ask four people about their experiences.
Bob Pemberton, 71, Aviva customer service adviser
After a 50-year career, most people could think of better things to do with their days than start work at 6.15am. For Bob Pemberton, however, getting up for his job as a customer service adviser with insurance company Aviva puts a spring in his step.
The 71-year-old from Sheffield joined the firm in 2015 after deciding retirement wasn’t for him. He had worked since the early 1970s for the Department of Health and Social Security and later for a trade union.
“I was bored rigid,” he said. “I enjoy working. It keeps me active and my brain going. You start to stagnate if you’re not careful.”
Pemberton says he is fortunate in that he doesn’t need to work. He and his wife, Liz, both have final salary pensions, and they’ve paid off their mortgage. “But my job is rewarding: I work with a great team.”
Aviva lets him work flexibly, doing a few long days to allow a shorter working week. The insurer says investing in older workers creates a diverse workforce and helps pass experience on to younger employees.
Pemberton can work from home, but has been glad to return to the office as restrictions ease: “I thoroughly enjoy being back. It’s great being with a crowd of people.”
He plans to keep working for the social life and stimulation as long as he feels like it. “I certainly don’t feel 71. I’ll probably keep on working for some time yet.”
Tim Folan, 61, retired procurement manager
Having lost his job in 2019, Tim Folan gave up looking for work during the pandemic after reassessing his priorities. Now the 61-year-old plans to sell his home in Walthamstow, east London, and retire to a cheaper city in the north of England, such as Liverpool or Bradford.
“I thought to myself last year that the only reason I came to London was to get work. So why stay? Why not cash in the money in my property and move farther north where people are nicer?”
The former librarian, originally from Coventry, handled procurement for a large accounting firm, and said he was concerned early in the pandemic that he might elbow out younger adults if he went up against them for jobs.
“I had a view – I think lot of people did at the time – that there would be massive recession and loads of unemployment. I didn’t need to work, so why not give up and just take my pension?”
Adam Ranson, 65, retired media teacher
A former film and media studies teacher from Gloucestershire, Adam Ranson found his work as an examiner dried up during the pandemic. In semi-retirement since 2018, he has changed his mind about looking for work. “I am beginning to be offered some invigilation work, but am disinclined to re-engage,” he said. “The portcullis has come down on my former 40-year vocation and I’m living the life I expected to lead in my 70s.”
Ranson used to be a fan of foreign-language and arthouse films and kept up with cultural trends, but says he has lost any sense of film being his vocation.
“I started watching The Power of the Dog recently, and thought, ‘Great acting, great cinematography, but do I want to watch a misery narrative? Nah, Jack Reacher is preferable’.”
Nichola Richings, 66, retired salesperson
Having been furloughed by the energy company she worked for, Nichola Richings, 66, was made redundant in autumn 2020.
“It damaged my self-esteem and confidence,” she said. “But I am a resilient person, so when I reached 66 I decided to think of myself not as an old woman on the scrap heap but a young retiree.”
Richings doesn’t have the financial safety net some retired people enjoy, having moved to her council home in Wiltshire from a women’s refuge eight years ago. She has no workplace pension, no mortgage-free property, and relies on her state pension and top-up credits, worth £177.10 a week.
Although she’s happy in retirement, and enjoys walking her dog, Rosa, in fields near her home, she believes that even if she did want to work, employers would dismiss her application.
“A woman of my age is unemployable,” she said. “Who’s going to take someone on who needs to be trained up, when they’re approaching retirement age?”