Government plans to get over-50s back into work

Economic Development Minister Kirsten Morel

REDUCING bias against older candidates at the recruitment stage and improving access to lifelong learning are among the proposals being considered to get over-50s back into work and tackle the ‘serious’ impact of Jersey’s ageing population.

Economic Development Minister Kirsten Morel said the Future Economy Plan, which is expected to be released later this year, would focus on schemes to keep Islanders in work for longer.

Last month, Nathan Elstub, executive chair of the impact investment committee at charity Nesta, described Jersey as having ‘one of the scariest age pyramids’ he had ever seen after the latest census found that the ‘dependency ratio’ in Jersey had risen to 52%. This means there were fewer people of working age and paying taxes than there were non-working-age people.

Deputy Morel said: ‘Our ageing population is the single most important economic challenge that we face, and it will develop very much over the next ten or 20 years. It is already upon us, so it is essential that we make this choice now, if we want to keep the level of healthcare that we currently enjoy.’

He added: ‘There is a stark binary decision that needs to be made. We can either grow the population size, which is the something I don’t think the Island wants, or increase the productivity of the Island’s existing population.

‘I am choosing to improve the productivity instead of increase population size. I believe this is the way to tackle this really important economic reality.’

Productivity in Jersey has dropped since its high point in 2007, before the financial crisis, with a report published in 2018 finding that Jersey’s Gross Value Added – total economic output – was behind Guernsey and the UK. The report also stated that productivity in Jersey had fallen by almost a quarter since 2007.

Meanwhile, the JEP reported last year that economic productivity of financial services (measured per full-time employee) had declined by 33 % since 2007.

Deputy Morel said: ‘The issue of ageing population is something I don’t think people really understand the consequences of, and it’s something we continue to work through in our Future Economy Plan.’

Deputy Morel said the plan would focus on schemes to:

  • Reduce bias at recruitment stages.

  • ‘Ensure expertise is valued.’

  • Improve access to lifelong-learning schemes.

He added: ‘We have a very large cohort of people who are aged between 50 and 60. The ageing population will need much more in terms of healthcare and resources, and at the moment we do not have a younger group of people which is large enough to support the demand for that older population.’

He added: ‘If Jersey is to support that older population without growing the population, then we absolutely have to develop a much more productive economy, which means every person in the workforce earning more money per head in order to pay for the healthcare of that older group.

‘We all lead much longer lives, so our population will be working later into life. We will have to look at a system around lifelong learning. Employers will have to understand that we cannot look at people’s ages when we employ them. It can be difficult for people to find jobs in their 50s and 60s, but that will have to become something of the past. It will have to become the norm to be working at that age.’

Chamber chief executive Murray Norton recently told the JEP that the ‘incentive to broaden the demographic of those in the workforce and value the experience and knowledge of those over 50 has never been greater’.

He added that anecdotally Chamber had heard of a number of over-50s who had decided to leave employment after the pandemic.

In the UK Budget, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt recently announced that the Department for Work and Pensions intended to increase the number of over-50s in work from 8,000 to 40,000 a year with pension tax cuts and the creation of ‘returnerships’.

Deputy Morel, who continues to develop solutions to the Island’s ‘biggest conundrum’, said the government was aware of the UK Budget.

PwC’s Channel Islands Women in Work Index, launched last week, also found a ‘substantial’ talent pool of both men and women who were not economically active over the age of 50 in Jersey. It suggested certain strategies to boost the labour force and target ‘non-employed’ talent pools, such as easy access to upskilling and reskilling programmes, encouraging employers to adopt flexible working patterns, and broadening recruitment to appeal to a wider demographic.