The United Kingdom

In a position paper on age and employment, the Faculty of Occupational Medicine has drawn attention to particular issues in the UK:1

The majority of non-working men [in the UK] aged between 50 and 65 are economically inactive (i.e. retired, sick or caring for others and unavailable for work) rather than unemployed (one in ten of this non-working age group). The number of people over 50 and on Incapacity Benefit has trebled in the last 20 years. Of those not seeking work, approximately half are on sickness or disability benefit (over 1 million people) and nearly half a million, mainly women, are full time carers. Individuals in this age group are more likely to experience low self-esteem, ill health and poverty. Thirty-seven per cent of 55-64 year olds say they have a limiting long-standing illness. Depression, social exclusion, and marital problems are also more common in this age group. Most of those not working have been out of employment for long periods, many having previously been in long standing jobs. Involvement in other activities (such as charitable work) is also declining in this age group.

This probably presents too gloomy a picture. Disability benefit is more generous than unemployment benefit and it is well documented that in places where traditional industries, such as steel making, have closed down, redundant workers rationally seek status as disabled rather than unemployed. However, the resulting statistics can mislead policy-makers, challenged by the need for socio-economic change to meet increases in longevity.

In this chapter we review some of the implications of the employment of older workers for occupational medicine. The first section outlines age-associated changes in health and function, the second deals with the adaptations in occupational health services, and the third raises some broader issues relating to the organization of industries and companies.

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