Surge in universal credit claims highlights precarious financial situation of demographic.
Increasing numbers of people aged over 50 in the UK do not have enough money to pay for basic necessities, a study of labour market statistics has shown.
Claims for universal credit, which is available only to households with savings of less than £16,000, from the over-50s have more than doubled since March.
The research, commissioned by Rest Less, a website for the over-50s, came after Ipsos Mori found the coronavirus crisis could leave the next generation of retirees significantly poorer and sicker.
Stuart Lewis, the founder of Rest Less, said: “Sadly, this is only the tip of the iceberg as many of those unemployed in their 50s will not be eligible to claim universal credit. The surge in older claimants highlights the extremely precarious financial situation that many of this demographic find themselves in today.
“With birth rates having declined for decades, the over-50s have been the main driving force behind the success story of UK employment growth in the years leading up to the pandemic,” he added. “Crucially, they will need to be just as essential to any recovery of the economy on the other side.”
Sue Burton Ross, 66, does not qualify for universal credit even though she is struggling financially. Burton Ross was made redundant from her role as a business support manager in the care sector at the end of February.
Burton Ross has applied for more than 200 jobs and has had 12 interviews. She believes her age is the key reason why she has not been selected for many of these roles. “My mental, physical and financial wellbeing have suffered as a result of jobhunting during the pandemic,” she said. “I cannot access universal credit because I have just started taking my state pension, even though it doesn’t cover my bills.”
The Office for National Statistics figures show claims for universal credit increased by 117% in two months, rising from 304,000 to nearly 660,000. The claims represent about 6% of those aged over 50 who are considered economically active, either in work or actively looking for work.
Before the pandemic, over-50s were already more likely to be in long-term unemployment than their younger counterparts, while analysis of insolvency data found an alarming increase in female insolvencies over the age of 65.
Lewis said: “In a year when the state pension age increases to 66 and with more over-50s claiming universal credit than those under 25, this is a wakeup call for government policy. The fear is of a lost generation of highly talented, older workers forced permanently into a miserable and unaffordable early retirement.”
Kim Chaplain, the associate director at the Centre for Ageing Better, said: “These figures are really worrying. Without action, we risk seeing many in their 50s and 60s fall out of the workforce years before the state pension age.”
Caroline Abrahams, the charity director at Age UK, said: “Post-pandemic, the government needs to make sure that job centres and other back-to-work support offers have the skills and expertise needed to address the specific barriers faced by older people.
“Otherwise those in their late 50s and 60s may end up having to claim universal credit or draw down savings, which they had worked hard to put by, with the aim of providing them with a decent retirement.”