‘Britain’s booming economy will be powered to new heights by over-65s who want to carry on working’ was the headline on a newspaper article this week.[i]
Over the next ten years 14.5 million more jobs will be created but only 7 million younger workers will enter the workforce – leaving 7.5 million roles unfilled. [ii] Experts say that without older workers the economy could stutter and even fail.
‘Even if we could get every young person a job there will still be a skills gap,’ said Anna Dixon, CE of Ageing Better. Patrick Thompson, of the Centre for Ageing Better, sees it as very good news. “This is fantastic news for our economy, increasing tax revenues, reducing benefit spending and boosting overall levels of GDP. Working in a good quality job keeps us active, social and more financially secure.”
But there’s a spanner in the works. It kicks in when people reach the age of 50. When they reach this age employees are scared to admit it for fear it will count against them. Two in five believe their age will bar them from promotion or pay rises, and this is often the case. [iii] Even though they are often more ambitious than their younger colleagues, Kate Cooper, of the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM). says the reality is that highly skilled and talented staff members have less opportunity to progress as they get older. “They are victims of out-dated stereotypes. As a result, despite wanting to climb the career ladder, many older managers are resigned to the fact they may miss out on promotion, with only half rating themselves as having ‘high potential’ for progression at their workplace.’ [iv]
The ILM said that if older workers continued to be overlooked for management, Britain would suffer a ‘serious talent and skills shortage’.
Ageism exists even among learned academics who could be expected to know better. Professor Paul Ewart, age 69, head of Atomic and Laser Physics successfully challenged Oxford University after he was compulsorily retired at the age of 69. The university said that it was to encourage more diversity, but Professor Ewart’s analysis showed that not be the case. ‘I’m a scientist, ‘he said, “I wanted to see the data and whether the data justified that conclusion.’ The Tribunal agreed that it didn’t.[v]
Professor Ewart hopes to work out a policy for retirement with the University that ‘is lawful and allows people the dignity and opportunity to choose when to retire. I don’t want a solution that helps just me. It has to help others as well.’
Acting ‘lawfully’ is important. In 2010 the Equality Act became law. It lists what are called “protected Characteristics” which are the categories that are protected from discrimination, harassment and victimisation. Among the protected categories is ‘age’, but this has been challenged on the basis that fairness between generations is a legitimate aim for employers, signalled in a case brought by a solicitor in 2012. (See https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-17837485) But is that thinking itself based on a fair assumption?
‘Everyone who is in a job is keeping someone else out of a job,’ said Professor Ewart, ‘a younger person … has many more opportunities to get a job somewhere else. If you lose your job at 67 it’s very hard to get another one.’
Perhaps the school of hard knocks wins
Where the law fails to protect against ageism, hard economic reality may succeed. In a growing economy companies need workers, and there are signs that they are beginning to realise the value of older employees. The number of people aged over 70 who are still working has more than doubled in a decade to nearly half a million, and the Office for National Statistics last week predicted that the over-65’s will add more than 280,000 workers to the UK economy in the next 10 years.
How does this affect Christian organisations and church leaders? In 2016 a survey of evangelical leaders showed that 71% believed there should not be a compulsory retirement age. [vi] ‘“Age is not necessarily good predictor of effectiveness,” said Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). “There are 75 year olds who have active and growing ministries, and 40 year olds whose ministries are struggling and lacking fruit.”
George Wood, general superintendent of Assemblies of God, said, “My most productive years have been since I turned 65. Ministry should not be assessed by biological chronology, but where the individual is still learning, growing and fruitful.”
The only mention of retirement in the Scriptures is of the Levites, who were to retire at 50 but were encouraged to stay on as volunteers to help. Ephesians 2:10 shows that God has plans for every person, at every age. Whether we stay on as employees, or take on voluntary work, we can be “still learning, growing and fruitful.”
[i] Daily Express, Thursday, 2.01.2020
[iii] Survey for AIG Life Insurance Combine
[v] Sunday Times, 2.02.2020