Economist, policy expert and consumer champion Dr Ros Altmann CBE has been appointed by the Government as its new Business Champion for Older Workers.
The appointment, announced today by DWP Minister Steve Webb, marks the latest step in the Government's drive to support over-50s in the UK labour market.
Dr Altmann - a former director-general of Saga and independent expert on later life issues - will be tasked with making the case for older workers within the business community and challenging outdated perceptions.
The move follows the Government's publication last month of Fuller Working Lives - A Framework For Action, which set out the benefits to individuals, business and the economy as a whole of people aged between 50 and state pension age staying in work.
Dr Ros Altmann said:
"I am so pleased that the Government has shown it recognises the importance of encouraging people to stay in the labour market, rather than giving up before they need to. This will bring benefits all round - to individuals, to business and to the economy as a whole. A big part of my role is to work with employers to understand the significant benefits of retaining and recruiting older workers.
"I am really proud to be taking on this new role and look forward to championing over 50s in the workplace. This fast-growing section of society has so much experience and talent to offer and could play a vital role in future growth. Everyone can benefit from ensuring their skills do not go to waste. I also look forward to challenging some of the outdated and downright inaccurate perceptions of later life workers who still have so much to offer."
DWP Minister, Steve Webb MP, said:
"In appointing a Business Champion for Older Workers I wanted a powerful voice; someone respected amongst the business community, with a track record of speaking up for consumer rights without fear or favour. In Dr Ros Altmann that's exactly what we have.
"Older workers have a huge amount to bring to any workforce and are a vast, untapped talent in the UK labour market. The business case is compelling and I am delighted that Ros will now be taking a lead in going out and making that case directly to the business community."
There are currently around 2.9m people aged between 50 and state pension age out of work in the UK. While the UK employment rate for this age group is around 60 per cent and growing, many other countries achieve rates of around 70 per cent or higher - so there is clearly significant potential for more older people to participate in the labour market for longer.
Demographic changes present major opportunities for employers to harness the benefits of taking on older staff, but also pose a serious threat to businesses which continue to believe they can rely solely on a young workforce. In the next 10 years, there will be 700,000 fewer people aged 16-49 in the UK labour market but 3.7m more people aged between 50 and state pension age.
Minister for Women, Nicky Morgan MP, said:
"Experienced and mature workers are a valuable asset to the UK economy. Many women with caring responsibilities come with a lifetime of knowledge and skills. If we don't retain them - British business loses out. We need to provide extra support and help employers challenge outdated perceptions to see the real strengths of this important section of the workforce. I am delighted that Dr Ros Altmann has been appointed and with her breadth of experience, she will be a great advocate of this work."
Baroness Greengross, Chief Executive of the International Longevity Centre-UK, said:
"We are living longer than ever before, yet far too many people fall out of the workforce early. Without more older workers active in the workplace there are significant risks for UK plc that we will not have the workforce or skills we need to be a competitive nation. Businesses must wake up to the challenge of extending working lives.
"Helping people work longer requires leadership and it is wonderful to see the announcement of Ros Altmann as the new Business Champion for Older Workers. I have no doubt that Ros will do all she can to nudge, encourage and indeed push, companies to maximise the potential of older workers."
One employer which has long recognised the benefits of a diverse workforce is coach operator National Express. Almost one in three (30 per cent) of its 1,700-strong workforce are over 50.
The company's HR Director Jenifer Richmond said:
"For us, taking on and retaining older workers isn't about compromising or bowing to political correctness - it makes sound business sense. We really value being able to have a good mix of older and younger employees as these often make up our best performing teams. Mixing with and learning from older staff is often the best way in which our younger employees and apprentices can learn, as well as being a great example of being reliable and having a positive work ethic.
"It is also the case that our customer base is diverse in age, and it is important that we have a workforce that reflects that. As National Express continues to grow and expand as a company, the contribution made by our older workers very much forms part of the plan."
The wider economy also stands to benefit. Research conducted by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research has found that if everyone worked one year longer, GDP could increase by 1% (equivalent to £16 billion in 2013).
And there are also significant gains to be made for individual households, with an average earner working one year longer having the potential to boost their pension pot by around £4,500, in addition to earning an extra year's salary. Conversely, an average earner retiring 10 years early could see their pension pot shrink by a third.
Those who leave the labour market early will not only lose out on the earnings they could enjoy, but also have less chance to build up later life savings, and their pensions will have to last longer. Work brings the benefits of extra income, higher potential pension later on and more production in the economy which can help create extra jobs in future too. There are also well-recognised benefits to people's health and wider wellbeing when they are working.