Furlough: why many older workers could be facing unemployment when the scheme ends

Furlough: why many older workers could be facing unemployment when the scheme ends
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The end of the furlough scheme in September could be disastrous for older workers in the UK. This is the message from Rest Less, a digital community and advocate for the over-50s. They’ve analysed government data and discovered that one in three people still on furlough in the UK are aged 50 or older. These people are at risk of being rendered jobless when furlough comes to an end.

What’s currently happening with furlough?

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), commonly known as furlough, has been a lifeline for millions of Brits during the pandemic. The scheme has helped to prevent many from losing their jobs. Under the scheme, the government provides employers with a percentage of their furloughed employees’ wages.

The scheme’s rules have changed in the last two months. Previously, the government paid 80% of the wages of furloughed staff. Since July, employers have had to take on more responsibility regarding the wages of furloughed staff, with the government reducing its contribution to 70%.

This figure has been reduced further to 60% in August, ahead of the scheme being completely phased out in September.

What are the current stats on furlough?

Figures show that the total number of people on furlough fell from 2.4 million to 1.9 million between May and June. That’s a fall of 590,000.  

While the number of furloughed employees fell across all age groups, the proportion of over-50s on furlough has been steadily increasing this year, rising from 27% in January to 34% in June. In comparison, the proportion of under-30s on furlough fell from 29% to 21% in the same time period.

At the moment, one in three of all furloughed employees are now over the age of 50.

In total, there are more than 630,000 people aged 50 or over still on furlough, according to Stuart Lewis, founder of Rest Less. On top of all this, about 568,000 over-50s are claiming job seeking or out-of-work benefits.

How could the ending of furlough impact older workers?

Lewis has warned that older workers may face difficult times ahead.

He explains: “When the furlough scheme draws to a close next month, we’re expecting it to be accompanied by a fresh wave of redundancies and another spike in unemployment levels-delivering another blow to workers in their 50s and 60s.”

Stats show that job vacancy figures have recently returned to pre-pandemic levels. However, as Lewis mentions, age discrimination in the recruitment process means that older workers are still likely to spend longer in unemployment after redundancy than younger workers if they are laid off after furlough.

Lewis says that many will be forced to dip into their savings or pensions, which could lead to a significant drop in long-term retirement income for decades to come. Others, he says, will have to retire earlier than they would want to.

As a result, Lewis has called on employers to recognise that workers in their 50s and 60s still have a lot to offer, including knowledge, technical skills, and a wide range of transferable skills.

He has also called on the government to provide more dedicated and tailored support to unemployed workers in their 50s and 60s as a “matter of urgency”.

How can I prepare for the end of furlough?

Uncertainty over your future can be distressing, to say the least. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to prepare for whatever may lie ahead.

The first thing you should do is examine your savings. Try to determine how long you can live off them in the absence of incoming income. Following that, create a budget to assist you in staying on top of your expenses and avoiding overspending.

Additionally, this could be a good time to update your CV. Think about any big accomplishments or contributions in your current role, as well as any attributes that you believe set you apart from others.

Also, think about learning new skills. You can accomplish this by attending conferences, signing up for free online courses, reading self-improvement books, volunteering, and so on. Additional skills can help you stand out in the job market. You can also use them as a bargaining chip during future salary negotiations.

Finally, if possible, look for a part-time job. Not only will a part-time job supplement your current income, but it will also act as a cushion if, in the worst-case scenario, you are laid off from your primary job when furlough ends.

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