Older people and employment in Scotland: research

An examination of attitudes and issues surrounding an older workforce.

Chapter 4: Barriers to extending working lives

4.1 Introduction

This chapter presents a range of barriers, or challenges, to the extension of working life, based on analysis of interviews with the older people sample group. Some barriers may be regarded as being largely outwith the control of individuals, such as labour market conditions and the onset of health conditions. However, it is important to note that, in some cases, older peoples' own attitudes and perceptions serve as equally significant barriers to the continuation of paid employment in later life.

The barriers to extending working life identified in this chapter may not necessarily prevent older people from engaging in paid employment. However, they can undermine the nature and quality of employment and in some cases may result in older workers leaving paid employment.

4.2 Labour market conditions

4.2.1 Perceived ageism in the labour market

Perceived ageism on the part of employers was a widely shared view amongst the older people sample group. They frequently expressed the belief that it would be difficult for them to secure another job if they needed to.

Participants believed that employers did not value the skills and experiences of older workers. It was thought that older people might be forced to downgrade occupations should they need to look for a new job. For example, one woman in her early sixties commented:

"I do think it'll be difficult. But it depends on the job that you're going for. So I think, say for example, if I decided that I would want to do a caring or support worker [job], something like that, I think that they're so desperate they would take anybody on. But that's not the sort of job that I would want to do […] I don't think they recognise or respect the experience and skills that you come with at this age . " (female employee, aged 62)

Another female employee made the following comment about employers:

"I think some employers are very keen on pushing people out the door once they get to a certain age and I think it's an awful shame that they lose all that experience . " (female employee, aged 52)

There is some limited evidence in the data to suggest that ageist and sexist attitudes amongst employers may interact, with the result that older women may end up in jobs for which they are over-qualified and underpaid. This may be one of the mechanisms through which the gender pay gap in later life is perpetuated. For example, one female participant recounted her experience of losing out on a senior role, which was subsequently offered to a younger, less experienced male candidate:

"I had the experience last year, again, of applying for 2 jobs that I knew I had the skills and the experience to do and didn't get either of them, and I'm quite sure that my age played a factor […] I think in the end they decided to appoint a younger man." (female employee, aged 61)

Such views were widespread amongst female participants, one of whom commented:

"I think it's very difficult to expect women at 58/59 to go out and get a job, I think employers are against them" (female employee, aged 66)

Another female participant described how her current job paid half the salary of her previous role at a different company. She explained that she hadn't raised the issue of her salary because:

"I just felt privileged to be able to get a job at 57. That's just how I felt at the time . " (female employee, aged 71)

The fact that this participant described herself as "privileged" to have been able to secure employment in her late fifties suggests that older people may have internalised ageist attitudes concerning their employability.

4.2.2 Job insecurity

Job insecurity was a significant theme, particularly for those employees working within third sector organisations. Many of these participants, who were predominantly women, thought that it was more likely that they would be made redundant than reach retirement age in their current employment. This was strongly related to funding uncertainties in their organisations. The following quotations illustrate this point:

"I think given the way funding is so precarious, knowing that I've got a contract now 'til March 2018 is great. But I'm not assuming that we will have funding after that . " (female employee, aged 62)

"People tend to lose their jobs because the funding ends, rather than people actually retiring . " (female employee, aged 51)

4.2.3 Low-paid employment and skill downgrading

Many participants perceived there to be a lack of good-quality, well-paid jobs in the labour market. They expressed the view that a large proportion of jobs currently available are low-paid and low-skilled. Those participants whose jobs were insecure expressed concern that if they were made redundant, any future job that they might obtain could result in occupational down-grading.

Whilst not a barrier to extended working life per se, the data suggest that this feature of the labour market has important implications not only for the nature and quality of people's experiences of working in later life, but also for their financial security. For example, two female employees made similar observations about jobs in the social care sector - a feminised occupation characterised by low pay:

"I think that there are a lot more people out there who actually want to work, it is just finding the right level of job and an appropriate salary for what it is. Even the support work that I have been doing […] I get £8.25 per hour for this […] it is not worth doing it for that sort of salary, even though it is a really worthy job to do." (female employee, aged 51)

"What makes me feel low is if I look at the good moves website for example, which I have, and I look down through 100 odd jobs in Edinburgh and they are even worse than what I earn. I see support work £15,000, carer £15,000." (female employee, aged 57)

However, participants employed in other sectors also pointed to the lack of good-quality part-time jobs available. In the following quotation, a male employee who worked as a financial officer offered his views on part-time work:

"I think part time posts for me at my level is difficult, to get the level I want . " (male employee, aged 57)

4.2.4 Engagement with the welfare system

The welfare system is intended to support individuals who want to find employment, and to help those who cannot work via benefits and other entitlements. A minority of participants (n=7) sought help from the welfare system since turning fifty. They reported facing considerable barriers with regard to engagement with Job Centres, entitlement awareness and benefit uptake.

Job centres: Several participants had experienced periods of unemployment in their fifties. They all reported negative experiences at Job Centres when they had sought support with finding employment and accessing state benefits.

Most described the system as ruthless and inflexible, and felt it did not take account of their individual needs. In particular, they felt that Job Centres were not adequately geared to assisting older workers with finding appropriate employment. Three participants who had attended Job Centres in their fifties believed that Job Centre staff did not appear to recognise their considerable skills and experiences, as illustrated in the quote below:

"I do believe the government need to really think about how they help older people, either get back into work if they've been off through illness and look at their position in terms of doing all the right things to have a good outcome, as opposed to pushing them through a system that actually doesn't cope with their background or age." (female employee, aged 60)

Despite participants being very keen to find work during their period of unemployment, they had perceived the attitude and approach of the Job Centre system to be punitive. Indeed, their interactions with Job Centres served to compound the sense of stress and shame that the participants already felt as a result of finding themselves unemployed. For example, one woman described how she was expected to sign on at the Job Centre on a particular day, even though the staff knew that she was attending a training course at that time:

"One time I was late and they treated me like a two year old and said "you won't be getting your money if you come in late" and I said "well I'm sorry, I'm being funded by the council and you to go on this course, you know where I am . " (self-employed female, aged 64)

Benefit uptake and entitlement awareness: At the time of interview, very few participants in the older people sample group were claiming state benefits. There was very low awareness of Pension Credit, and no participants were currently claiming Pension Credit. From this sample of research participants however, it is not feasible to estimate levels of awareness and uptake of Pension Credit amongst the general population of older people.

Of the four unemployed participants, only one was receiving Employment and Support Allowance. Two of the four unemployed participants had not applied for state benefits and were living off savings, anticipating that they would soon find another job. The fourth unemployed participant had been unable to work for the past decade, due to a rare medical condition which was diagnosed shortly after she completed a master's degree. Despite her health problems, this participant had been deemed fit to work after a medical assessment undertaken by ATOS healthcare, which meant that she was ineligible for state benefits. Now aged fifty, this participants reported that she faced the prospect of retirement without being eligible for a state pension, as she had not been able to build up NI contributions. She was very anxious about her financial circumstances, particularly because her husband had recently been made redundant. The following extensive quote vividly illustrates her predicament:

"Well it's a massive concern for me because I have no pension provision, I'm not well enough to work but they say I'm not unwell enough to be registered as disabled, therefore I've just fallen off the radar of the health and social security system, I'm not registered with the tax office, well I am but I mean I haven't worked in years so I have no recent tax record, my national insurance payments are not being covered because I'm neither working nor registered as unemployed, nor registered as disabled, now I don't want to register as unemployed because they force you to work, and although I want to work, a lot of the time I'm not actually well enough to work, so I'm sort of stuck in this no man's land where I have absolutely no social security, no tax, no national insurance coverage, nothing." (unemployed female, aged 50)

Other participants who had experienced periods of unemployment since turning fifty also described barriers to accessing state benefits. They indicated that it had been very difficult to determine what they were actually entitled to, as they were not given clear information by welfare service providers. The following quotes highlight participants' limited awareness of their entitlement:

"I know when I wasn't working and I was thinking about Job Seekers Allowance, you go along and you get told absolutely nothing. You have got to ask everything. Nothing is volunteered. That was one of the things I found quite frustrating. I get the impression that state benefits are also pretty much the same. You have to figure everything out yourself." (unemployed male, aged 63)

'I found out about various benefits and things because I am lucky enough to be reasonably intelligent. I think somebody who, you know, who isn't as bright, I don't think they would get the help. I think there is help there, but you have to seek it out and be quite articulate to find it." (unemployed male, aged 64)

4.3 Health problems

4.3.1 Physical health problems

Participants identified poor health as a key barrier to extending working life. The number of participants who reported a chronic physical health condition was relatively small (n=6), but a wider range of participants (a third of the sample group) anticipated that the potential onset of health problems in the future might curtail their ability to work. It is important to note that those participants aged over sixty-five did not necessarily report more health problems than younger participants. This may reflect the fact that the oldest participants in the sample group were still in paid employment because they had maintained relatively good health.

Participants were acutely aware of their reliance on maintaining good health, both in order to work, and in order to enjoy their retirement:

"If you've not got your health then you can't work. But then you still want your health, like I said, to be able to enjoy the things when you retire […] So, the two of them are basically interlinked" (male employee, aged 55)

Of the six participants who had chronic physical health conditions, three were employed, two were self-employed and one was unemployed. The employees expressed fears that their health might worsen over time, and leave them in a position where they were forced to give up their jobs before reaching state pension age. For these workers, the financial consequences of potentially having to give up work on health grounds caused considerable anxiety:

"I see myself with my health, and yes there is a worry constantly, in the back of your head it's always there" (female employee, aged 59)

"Participant : I don't want to give it up, not just now.
Interviewer : Why's that?
Participant: Because I need the money […] It all depends on how my body feels." (female employee, aged 60)

For the unemployed participant in this subset, a rare and debilitating health condition was the main barrier to employment. The two self-employed participants perceived their health conditions as a barrier to working as employees. However, self-employment offered them control and flexibility over their working patterns, which enabled them to stay in work whilst managing their health problems.

4.3.2 The effects of ageing on physical capabilities

One third of the older people sample group made comments noting a general decline in their physical state over time. Many participants within this subset reported a gradual increase in general aches and pains since turning fifty. There were widespread references to sore knees and backs, stiff joints, increased tiredness, and a loss of energy and physical strength. Whilst these health issues did not necessarily prevent participants from continuing in paid employment, participants did express awareness of how the physical effects of ageing impacted upon their day to day experiences of work:

"I can't lift like I used to at work, you know, sometimes I think 'oh my god I can't lift that, I used to be able to lift that'" (female employee, aged 58)

"I believe it gets a bit harder. You feel the same age it's just your body doesn't and you feel the aches and pains. I think sometimes even bending down to lift the smallest thing it's just a bit too much." (male employee, aged 59)

"I don't have any health problems as such, but I definitely feel I've not got the energy that I had even when I was 50." (female employee, aged 55)

Participants tended to downplay these changes to their physical capabilities as "just a normal part of ageing". However, a number of participants expressed doubts about how long they would be able to continue in paid employment:

"I feel at the moment I'm quite tired and therefore, I don't think I could last out another 13 years, doing this anyway." (female employee, aged 53)

" Participant: Well, I would say my health is, as I say, it's just gradual, your eyes and things is just starting to go, don't they? You know what I mean? And some things are pretty small that you are working with, you know, these components and things'
Interviewer: 'OK, alright. And do you think that growing older might have any impact on your ability to do the job?'

Participant : Yeah." (female employee, aged 62).

These findings suggest that the general impact of ageing upon physical capabilities may gradually undermine older people's ability to carry out paid employment, even without the onset of specific health conditions.

4.3.3 Menopause

Female participants were not asked specifically about the menopause, but in the context of more general questions about health, five women spontaneously mentioned how going through the menopause had impacted upon their working lives:

"When you have a hot flush you are soaking […] if you have one when you're in with a client it can sometimes take you back a little bit […] so yeah I think it does have an effect on your work" (female employee, aged 55)

"I have had problems with the menopause as well. Things like tiredness, a little bit cranky, and flushing and things like that which have been quite hard, being able to go to work, so that's been a little bit of a difficulty . " (female employee, aged 52)

Whilst only a small proportion of female participants referred to the challenges of managing menopause-related symptoms at work, it would be erroneous to assume that menopause is not a problematic issue for older women who desire to extend their working lives. There are a range of possible reasons why other women in the sample group might not have mentioned the impact of menopause upon their working life: they weren't asked a specific question on the topic; women in their sixties may have experienced menopause several years previously and so may not have felt it was relevant to their current experiences; stigma around menopause may have inhibited women from talking about their experiences.

4.3.4 Work-related stress

Participants viewed the relationship between health and work as being two-way. Whilst health problems might prevent individuals from continuing to work in later life, the experience of work-related stress could also impact on health and might act as a barrier to extended working life.

Approximately one fifth of the older people sample group (n=9) had experienced work-related stress, either in their current job or in a recent job. For four of these participants, this had resulted in them being signed off work for two to three months on average, within the last year. The following quotations are typical of comments made by this subset of participants:

"I was basically doing 2 jobs in 20 hours, almost 2 full-time jobs in 20 hours, and I mentioned to her [boss] that I was feeling very stressed and that something needed to change or I'd end up going off sick. And the long and short of it is nothing changed […] and the doctor signed me off and recognised it was work-related stress and depression." (female employee, aged 62)

"It is very, very demanding and it does cause quite a lot of stress […] the workload is obviously quite massive . " (female employee, aged 55)

None of these participants suggested that the work-related stress they experienced was directly linked to their age. However, the participants' ages and life stages were relevant in terms of influencing their responses to their stressful work situations. For example, two participants, aged 57 and 60, had decided to bring forward their retirement date as a way of attempting to protect their health from what they perceived to be an unsustainable level of work-related stress. They were able to do this because they had sufficient financial resources to do so. This contrasts with the action of another, younger participant, aged 50, who had resigned from a stressful job and embarked upon self-employment as a way of sustaining employment whilst managing his stress levels.

Other participants, however, were pessimistic about the possibility of reducing their experience of work-related stress. As discussed in previous sections, participants' perceptions of unfavourable labour market conditions, and their personal financial constraints meant that there were compelling reasons for staying in jobs, even if they undermined participants' mental health.

For example, one female employee talked about how she had recently been signed off work for two weeks with stress, and how she had subsequently decided to leave her job. However, she was dismayed at how poorly paid the jobs advertised in her sector were. Another female employee had returned to work primarily because her occupational sick pay had been curtailed; without any other sources of household income she couldn't afford not to return to work:

"My doctor felt that I should take another 2 weeks but I couldn't afford to . " (female employee, aged 62)

The findings presented here show that, experiences of job stress may impact upon later life working in a range of ways. For some older workers, job stress may prompt early exit from the labour market if workers have sufficient pension provision to survive financially. For others, financial constraints and uncertainty over the likelihood of securing alternative employment means that they may remain in stressful jobs at the expense of their health and well-being.

4.4 Caring responsibilities

4.4.1 Overview of caring responsibilities amongst the older people sample group

Over half of the older people sample had current caring responsibilities at the time of interview (two thirds of the female participants and one quarter of the male participants) [8]

Fourteen participants (6 men, 8 women) had dependent children, identified here as school-age children living at home, or adult children that participants were supporting financially through university, or adult children with additional support needs who were still living at home.

Three female participants were kinship carers for their grandchildren, an unexpectedly high proportion for a relatively small sample group. Perhaps surprisingly, none of the older people participants were currently involved in providing childcare for their grandchildren whilst their adult children were at work. Two female participants had multiple caring responsibilities: one with responsibility for her adult child with learning disabilities as well as for her own brother, the other with teenage children at home and responsibility for elderly parents who lived 85 miles away.

Five female participants had eldercare responsibilities. A further eight participants (6 women, 2 men) reported having previously undertaken caring responsibilities for elderly parents until their death. This period of combining caring and working had often lasted for several years.

The following sections present findings relating to past, as well as current caring responsibilities and discuss the range of ways in which older people's caring responsibilities have both impacted upon and been shaped by their participation in the labour market. Participants' ability to sustain employment at the same time as undertaking family caring roles varied widely within the sample group. This was partly connected to the degree of support they were able to access from employers, but was also related to personal preferences, financial constraints, and the perceived impact of caring and working upon their own health and well-being. Participants' views on how anticipated future caring responsibilities might impact upon their future employment are also considered.

4.4.2 Caring for dependent children

In terms of how participants viewed caring for dependent children, there was a clear difference between those participants who still had school-age children living at home, and those participants who were either caring for dependent adult children with additional support needs, or who were kinship carers for their grandchildren.

School-age children: For those participants who were parents of school-age children, combining paid employment with childcare responsibilities was generally viewed as straightforward and relatively unproblematic. Generally, participants' children were teenagers who did not require hands-on childcare in the same way as younger children. The one exception to this was a female participant who had a primary school-aged child with learning disabilities. She found it challenging to balance the requirements of her job with her child's care needs, and was hoping to be able to find a job closer to her child's school so that her child would not need to go to after-school club.

Adult children with additional support needs: For three participants whose adult children had additional support needs, continuing in paid employment was necessary in order to support their children financially. As mentioned in Section 3.3.2, participants linked this need to remain in paid work to the fact that their children had lost access to state benefits. One further participant described how she had continued to work for several years past state pension age, in order to support her adult daughter and grandchildren after her daughter's marriage broke down:

"I then had to help her buy a car, try and buy furniture for the house because he had done nothing. Basically I worked on and only last year did I stop supporting her. So all that time I've been supporting her and we could have done a lot of things." (female employee, aged 71)

Kinship carers for grandchildren: The three participants who were kinship carers for their grandchildren indicated that they needed to maintain paid employment in order to have sufficient financial resources to pay for the grandchildren's upbringing. Taking on full-time caring responsibility for their grandchildren represented a significant financial burden, and these participants believed that it was unfair that their local authorities did not offer them the same level of financial support as foster carers.

Whilst kinship carers expressed a strong sense of love and obligation towards their grandchildren, they also felt that their lives had been disrupted by this long-term caring role. One kinship carer described how she had been forced to change her plans for retirement:

"I maybe would have given up my work when I was sixty and had some time away with my husband and that, but we've got the bairn to bring up, she might want to stay on at school, go on to university. So, your plans all went through the window . " (female employee, aged 62)

Two of the three kinship carers reported that their employers had offered them some flexibility over their working hours, to support them in their caring roles. However, as one of these participants commented, being able to take time off when needed did not necessarily impact on the amount of work she had to do:

"There's still the pressure of your job, so on the one hand "yes, it's OK, you go to the Children's Panel, do what you like, take time off", but nobody is saying "oh well, we'll ease your workload for that . " (female employee, aged 55)

While findings from other research [9] indicate that a substantial proportion of older workers are involved in looking after their grandchildren whilst their adult children are at work, there was surprisingly little in the data about participants providing childcare for grandchildren. Aside from the three kinship carers, none of the participants were currently involved in providing childcare whilst their adult children were at work.

In summary, for participants who were involved in supporting their own children or grandchildren, employment was a key means of fulfilling their caring responsibilities, as it ensured that they had sufficient income to support their dependents.

4.4.3 Eldercare responsibilities

Nearly a third of the participants (n=13) reported having caring responsibilities for elderly relatives, either in the past or at the time of interview. This section explores the range ways in which eldercare responsibilities had impacted upon participants' working lives.

The gendered nature of eldercare: Only two of the thirteen participants who reported past or present eldercare responsibilities were men. A recurrent theme in the data was that women shouldered the bulk of eldercare within families, even when they had male siblings who could share caring responsibilities for their parents. This reflects broader societal trends in unpaid care for family members. One unmarried female participant described her brother's attitude to caring for their mother in the following way:

"I think he [brother] feels that I don't have a life so I should just get on with it, basically." (female employee, aged 60)

Another female participant, working in a full-time job, anticipated that caring for her elderly mother would fall to her, despite having a brother:

"My caring commitments are likely to increase. I've got a very fit mother who's 77, but she's fit and healthy at the moment so I would say in the next ten years that's likely to impact on my work. […] I've got a brother but I would imagine if there was anything that started to deteriorate, I would maybe have the brunt of that." (female employee, aged 53)

Women's working lives were impacted in several ways by their eldercare commitments:

Disruption to employment: In cases where women had been involved in caring for terminally ill parents, often for several months or years, they commonly described the toll that this took upon both their physical health and emotional well-being. Women described themselves as suffering from "burn-out", which in some cases led to them needing to take several months off work in order to recover, as illustrated by the following quotes from two different participants:

"There did come a point where I couldn't cope anymore […] and I had to take time off work" (female employee, aged 55)

"I feel tired, I don't know if I'll bounce back after being a carer […] I just know that having been a carer, having gone through bits to deal with menopause and health that, you know my ability to do the job isn't so great" (female employee, aged 55)

The impact of caring upon participants' health and well-being could have long-term consequences for their working lives. For example, one participant had left a relatively well-paid job in 2005 following the long-term illness and subsequent death of both parents, as she felt that she could no longer cope with the demands of the job. Her intention had been to take a year out to recover. She had subsequently been unable to find a job at the same level of skill or pay as her previous role. At the time of interview, she was earning much less through self-employment than she had done as a bank employee in previous years. She described the impact that caring had had on her in the following way:

"While my mother was ill I used to work, I used to do the caring for my mother, and I used to watch my granddaughter 2 days a week. […] I don't know how I survived it, to tell you the truth. As I say, I'm still recovering from it all, it takes a lot out of you." (self-employed female, aged 64)

The time commitments associated with eldercare: Most of the participants with eldercare responsibilities devoted a significant number of hours a week to looking after their parents or other elderly relatives. In many cases, eldercare was a long-term commitment, stretching over months or years, and involved visiting the relative on a regular basis and performing everyday household tasks for that relative such as cooking, cleaning and shopping. This type of commitment was generally fitted in around participants' work commitments, at evenings and weekends. However, in some cases, caring demands left participants with very little time to pursue work-related activities such as job-searching, as illustrated by the following quote from a participant who wished to change jobs:

"I go round in the morning, I go round about lunch time, I go round in the afternoon, I go round in the evening, I bring her washing round, I do her ironing, I wash it, I dry it, I iron it. If she needs stuff, mostly toiletries from the shops, I get her them. I try and encourage to eat. I ensure she's got plenty of boiled water, make sure medication's right […] plus running this place and I'm desperate to go job searching again." (female employee, aged 59)

The unpredictability of eldercare: Aside from the routine aspects of eldercare, which participants were generally able to fit in around their working hours, participants related many instances when they needed to take time off work at short notice because their parent had had an accident, fallen ill, or was dying. An acute crisis such as an emergency admission to hospital could develop into a longer term caring need, and both scenarios posed challenges for older workers. Whilst none of the participants reported that they had not been able to take time off work in a caring emergency, the unpredictability of such care demands could cause them considerable anxiety. For example, for one self-employed participant whose parents lived hundreds of miles away, the prospect of a caring emergency was an ever-present concern as she scheduled her work:

"Yeah it's a constant hover with a fear element built in; 'what is going to happen, are we going to be able to respond to it, how are we going to deal with it?' "(self-employed female, aged 63)

Another female participant implied that her working life would come to an abrupt end if her husband fell ill:

"If anything happened to my husband and he needed me to be at home, that would be it" (female employee, aged 71).

One of the four unemployed participants in the older people sample perceived the unpredictability of eldercare needs as a key barrier that hindered her participation in the labour market:

"Instead of us being able to go off and look for work and deal with all the paperwork and all of that, we found ourselves looking after my parents in the hospital, so this care component for my parents, it's very unpredictable, it could be fulltime around the clock or it could be nothing at all, it's random and I never know what I'm going to get . " (unemployed female, aged 50)

4.4.4 What has helped older people to combine working and caring

Participants identified a number of ways in which their employers supported them in managing the challenges of combining work with their caring responsibilities:

Employer flexibility: The key support that participants with eldercare responsibilities valued in their employers was flexibility in being able to take leave at short notice, as illustrated by the following quote:

"There had to be a degree of flexibility at work. So I had to take days, half days off and things like that. At short notice. Which was OK. I could do it." (female employee, aged 58)

Awareness of employer policies to support carers: Public sector workers tended to have a greater awareness of their entitlement to time off for emergency care for dependents than private sector employees. However, this was not always the case, as indicated by the following quote from a council employee:

"If I went to my boss and said, look I'm toiling…they would work round it, you know they try and accommodate people's requests as much as possible but I can't actually think at the moment if they've got a policy for flexible working. In my job, we can't have flexible working as such because you need to have a manager there at all times "(female employee aged 60)

Relationship with line manager: Regardless of whether or not participants were aware of formal employer policies, most time off for caring responsibilities was negotiated informally with participants' line managers. This meant that being able to secure time off was often dependent on whether or not workers had a sympathetic line manager:

"the policies in place, although they're supportive it does depend who your manager is, because it's at the manager's discretion, so I think it depends what kind of relationship you've perhaps got with your managers, because I do know there's other people who sometimes have difficulty in that way. (female employee, aged 55)

These findings suggest that rather than view time off for caring for dependents as a right, some participants viewed themselves as "lucky" for being able to take time off when they needed to. Participants were often at pains to demonstrate their commitment to their jobs, and their gratitude for being allowed to take time off, by working additional hours at another time.

4.5 Attitudinal barriers

4.5.1 No desire to extend working life

As noted in Section 3.3, a key message was that many participants (aged 50 to 64) had no desire to extend their working lives, and indeed many had plans to retire before state pension age. Participants often talked about wanting to retire whilst they were still relatively fit and healthy, in order to be able to spend a period of time "enjoying life" before the onset of any potential health problems. The following quotations express this view:

"At the age of 60 you should still be fit enough to do things and enjoy life, especially if you've been working all your life, there must be things you want to do and want to achieve." (female employee, aged 55)

"If you're fortunate financially to be able to get out of working, if you've got a chance, mentally and physically then I think 'well actually go for it', because you may regret it down the line if your health suffers, and then you won't be able to enjoy your retirement." (male employee aged 57, planning to retire at 60)

Participants who intended to retire at or before state pension age commonly expressed the opinion that they had worked for long enough, and that their priorities had now shifted to other aspects of their life, such as their family and their hobbies. Amongst some participants there was resistance to shifting societal expectations that people should now work longer. Women in particular tended to express long-held expectations about retiring at 60, if not before. However, as discussed previously, participants' ability to retire from paid employment was to a large extent shaped by financial constraints.

4.5.2 Concerns over intergenerational equity

Many participants expressed concern that by remaining in paid employment, older workers were preventing young people from accessing paid employment. Thus, one male worker made the following comment about the rise in the state pension age:

"I think the downside is the other end of the scale, is that younger people coming in, there's less opportunities for young people getting work and graduates and such like, people are struggling to get work . " (male employee , aged 57)

This perception was also echoed by a female employee:

"I just feel that there's not a lot of help for younger people. And older people having to stay on in the workplace is not helping because they're not getting the jobs." (female employee, aged 58)

4.6 Summary

This chapter has explored different ways in which labour market conditions and the benefits system, health issues, caring responsibilities, and workers' own attitudes and perceptions may all be experienced by older people as potential barriers to the extension of working life.

Perceived ageism, both in the labour market and in the welfare system, was regarded as a barrier to older people being able to extend their working lives. Participants expressed concerns that their considerable skills and experiences were not recognised by potential employers or by Job Centre staff.

In terms of health and well-being, work-related stress was an issue for several participants, which reduced the likelihood of them wanting to extend their working lives. More broadly, most participants viewed health issues as an inevitable consequence of ageing, and future health problems were perceived to be a likely barrier to continued participation in the labour market. The prospect of having to retire on health grounds before state pension age gave rise to considerable anxiety.

Women were more likely than men to have been negatively affected by the cumulative interaction of insecure, low-paid jobs alongside multiple caring responsibilities throughout their lives. Women in this situation were less likely to have built up sufficient pension entitlements to retire with an adequate income. For those participants with caring responsibilities, employer flexibility around taking leave and adjusting working hours was greatly appreciated as a means of enabling them to combine work and care.


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