Early Retirement Detour: UK Government Pushes for Return to Work

Are you over 50 and recently retired from the workforce? The UK government may have a way to get you back in the game. According to reports, the government is considering offering a “midlife MOT” to middle-aged retirees in an effort to boost the economy. This MOT would assess finances and job opportunities, with the goal of enticing those who have retired back into employment.

The idea is part of a larger agenda by Rishi Sunak to address some of the UK’s fundamental problems, including a significant labour shortage caused by a wave of early retirements since the Covid pandemic. It’s believed that many of these retirements were based on assumptions made before the cost of living crisis.

The economic affairs committee’s report on the issue showed a jump in economic inactivity (the number of people not in work or looking for work) and rising vacancies since 2020. Government estimates show that about 630,000 people have left the workforce since 2019, and employment figures have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels. The report also noted that retirement, increased sickness, changes in migration, and an aging population have all contributed to the current tight labour market.

October figures revealed that nearly 2.5 million people were not seeking jobs due to long-term sickness, further exacerbating the labour shortages. The midlife MOT hopes to identify opportunities for part-time or flexible work, mentoring, and skills training.

These measures are part of a government initiative set to launch in the new year with the aim of reducing the nearly 9 million adults of working age who are currently economically inactive. Government sources say that the plan is a priority for Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, as low employment rates and high levels of long-term sickness (which accounted for 28% of all those out of the labour market in June to August, compared to 15% at the start of the pandemic) are dragging down the economy.

Last month, Hunt asked Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride to assess the barriers and incentives to work. Stride’s research found that 60% of those who left their jobs since the start of the pandemic would consider returning. He is also keen to examine the possibility of a government “pairing” scheme in which older workers support and advise small and medium-sized businesses, as well as volunteering schemes for retired individuals who have no financial need to work but may be willing to donate their time for worthwhile causes.

Dame Sharon White, the head of John Lewis, has also encouraged the over-50s (1 million of whom left their jobs during the pandemic) to return to work to address the labour shortage driving up inflation and wages. If older workers can be convinced to return to work, even part-time, it could have a significant impact and help the UK recover from the recession, according to a government source quoted by The Times.

Sunak is also reportedly looking to take further action to reduce NHS waiting times, examine education changes, and focus on immigration. So, if you’re over 50 and retired, it may be worth considering a midlife MOT to see if returning to work is a viable option for you.

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