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The governments pensions minister Steve Webb has just announced the appointment of Dr Ros Altmann to the newly created role of Older Workers Business Champion.

Dr Altmann has worked as a freelance expert on older people's issues, and has previously served as the director general of a leading organisation catering for the over fifties market.

Making the announcement, Mr Webb explained, "Older workers have a huge amount to bring to any workforce and are a vast, untapped talent in the UK labour market".

Dr Altmanns role will include responsibilities such as making it easier for older people to continue to work past the default retirement age if they wish to do so, by combating ageism in the workplace.

The value which older people can add to the workplace has been underestimated for many years. Now economic circumstances are forcing the government and businesses to rethink their attitudes towards older people. 

An Elderly Pensioner At Work
Championing older workers

Allowing older people to continue to work

Allowing people to stay in employment has benefits for the economy as a whole, with older people contributing to rather than taking from the tax system.

Older people who continue to earn are also more able to spend, thereby boosting the economy as consumers too. They are likely to have a higher proportion of disposable income than their younger counterparts, as in all probability they will have paid off the mortgage and any children will have grown up and no longer be dependents.

Allowing people to stay in employment has benefits for the economy as a whole, with older people contributing to rather than taking from the tax system.

Older people who continue to earn are also more able to spend, thereby boosting the economy as consumers too. They are likely to have a higher proportion of disposable income than their younger counterparts, as in all probability they will have paid off the mortgage and any children will have grown up and no longer be dependents.

As Dr Altmann described it, "Employers often have ageist attitudes which mean they fail to make the most of the skills of their workforce." One of the problems has been that companies are often reluctant to spend their training and development budgets on people they expect will leave within a few years to retire.

This can become a vicious circle as employees feel less valued and therefore less committed to the company, with reduced performance levels in the run up to retirement.

Adopting a more flexible approach to retirement age should encourage employers to evaluate people and their development requirements on their individual performance rather than focusing on whether their retirement is due within the next few years.

High performing employees should be rewarded with investment and the opportunity to continue to work for as long as they are able to make a valuable contribution to the company.

Changing attitudes

A change in attitude towards older job applicants is also needed. Many people over fifty find it increasingly difficult to get interviews for jobs, as younger applicants are often favoured.

Once again, a flexible retirement age would help prospective employers to stop focusing on the remaining useful years to pensionable age.

Ageism is a problem in today's society, but the creation of this new role is a positive step for older people, with a chance to create more opportunities and a fairer environment in the workplace.

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