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Government’s support package for self-employed risks excluding older workers

Responding to the government’s announcement of its support scheme for self-employed workers last week, the International Longevity Centre UK (ILC) has argued that the support package risks excluding a sizeable number of older workers who are already in a vulnerable position.

According to ILC, 12% of workers under 50 (2.7 million) and 21% of workers aged 50+1 (2.2 million) are self-employed. A significant proportion of older workers are self-employed and among these, a sizeable number may be ineligible for any support. This could unintentionally disincentivise longer working lives and further disadvantage the retirement incomes of the self-employed. 

Full-time self-employed workers aged 55 plus earn less than younger workers (aged 24 or over), and over £100 a week less than their employed counterparts.

Although many older workers will have an adequate financial buffer to protect against income shocks, a significant subset, particularly among the self-employed, where 23% of such workers are in relative poverty, do not. They will struggle to get by with no or delayed support except piecemeal offers of Universal Credit.

Nearly 60% of carers in England and Wales are aged 50+ and 65% of older carers (aged 60–94) have long-term health problems or a disability themselves.​

Older workers are also likely to be vulnerable themselves or caring for someone more vulnerable to coronavirus alongside these financial pressures.

Research by ILC has found that by 2040, older people could be spending 63p in every pound spent in the UK. Moreover, by 2040, older workers could be contributing 40% (£311 bn) of total earnings to the UK economy, adding 2% to GDP every year if older people are supported to stay healthy and in work for longer.

ILC research fellow Sophia Dimitriadis argued, “In these troubling times, it’s more important than ever that no one is left behind. But these arbitrary criteria for support risk doing just that. As a growing number of workers transition to self-employment in their later years, we need to ensure they are not forgotten, and feel supported to work for longer and have sufficient savings for retirement.”

“Failing to support workers of all ages to stay afloat in these unprecedented times could not only put individuals’ livelihoods at risk but also exacerbate the effects of a coronavirus-driven recession.”

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