Unemployed and over 50: What did we not realise employment gave us in addition to income?

By Polly Frayne, Programme Manager at Public Voice
A woman working with bicycles

We all have varying experiences of employment throughout our lifetime. For some of us, it can lead to financial security and self-fulfilment, as well as challenges and hardships for others and at different times in our lives. 

After the COVID-19 pandemic, and as restrictions eased, there was a notable rise in older people not in work. The government responded in 2022 with a national scheme targeted at the unemployed over 50s, including a ‘Restart Scheme’ for long-term unemployed. 

While an acceptable and secure income is often front of mind in employment conversations, perhaps less often do we explore what else work offers us as individuals. As part of Loneliness Awareness week, Haringey Reach and Connect have been exploring the impact lack of employment can have on our health and wellbeing. 

The Health Foundation states: ‘Employment, or the lack of it, can have considerable influence on health and wellbeing. Poor health can limit people’s ability to have and sustain work. The nature of people’s work matters for health, but also impacts other factors that influence health, such as having sufficient income and forming social connections.’ 

According to The Health Foundation’s Haringey local authority dashboard, when looking at Employment and Healthy Life Expectancy, Haringey rates on average 79th out of 150 London Boroughs. Looking across the borough for employment by life expectancy, there is a strong correlation between unemployment and poorer health and wellbeing outcomes. The Centre for Ageing Better has reported on the lack of support for over 50s in particular to find and sustain good employment – noting reasons such as health constraints and caregiving responsibilities as factors. And over 50s on lower incomes leaving the labour market are more likely to face greater challenges in terms of health and wellbeing. 

Employment, wellbeing and social isolation 

Haringey Reach and Connect’s outreach team of Community Connectors work with many over 50s not currently in employment. Unsurprisingly, one of the main reasons is retirement due to person’s time of life; however, many of our clients are of working age, whether employed or unemployed. 

The unemployed over 50’s in Haringey who we work with often express experiencing a higher degree of loneliness and social isolation. 

As part of our annual Haringey Loneliness Awareness Week work, the Reach and Connect team has been reaching out to the DWP Over 50’s Midlife MOT Service. We have presented our service to a number of their workshops and in doing so explored the question “What did we not realise employment gave us in addition to income?”.   

Participants have fed back that they have found it helpful and productive to have a forum to not only talk about ‘what they can do’ but ‘how they feel’. They talk about the impact of: 

  • Loss of routine 

  • Social isolation 

  • Lack of purpose 

  • ‘Feeling invisible’ 

  • Loss of confidence 

  • Reason to get up in the morning 

  • Effect on health and wellbeing 

  • How our identity can often be linked to our job. 

The feedback from this workshop discussion mirrors academic studies on the impact of loneliness on unemployment, one of which concluded that: “loneliness is seen to impact both current and future unemployment suggesting efforts should be targeted at its prevention rather than treatment”.  

Overall, improved loneliness could mitigate unemployment, and employment abate loneliness, which may in turn relate positively to other factors such as health and quality of life. 

This study suggests a two-way street, and it would seem: 

  • On one hand being lonely can affect your ability to gain employment; 

  • On the other hand, being unemployed can increase loneliness. 

How do we break this cycle? 

Consider a resident in their late 50s: He was a support worker but has been out of work for years due to a health concern. Now ‘well’ - although not as healthy as he used to be - he needs to actively seek new employment. What should he do now he is edging towards retirement but not there yet?   

There is no one solution as we all have unique experience and challenges, and it often takes steps to become self-motivated or enable someone to (re)connect with what they may need. Haringey Reach and Connect aims to support residents who find themselves in this situation to challenge loneliness and isolation by engaging with: 

  • Peer support to offer mutual support and share experience; 

  • Community connection to improve health and wellbeing; 

  • Volunteering to regain routine, relationships and purpose. 

Haringey Reach and Connect supports local initiatives to help Haringey over 50’s to connect. Haringey’s first Age Well Festival, taking place on Saturday 21st September at Bruce Castle Park, will raise awareness and give Haringey residents the opportunity to engage with and consider what can help them ‘Age Well’. This is in response to a huge disparity between residents living out their old age in good health due to social and economic reasons often linked to employment. 

For more information about getting involved in the Age Well Festival, or employment and wellbeing support for over 50s in Haringey, get in touch with the Reach and Connect team

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