In recent decades, the extension of working life has become a priority for policy makers in the UK. An ageing population, combined with steady increases in life expectancy, have led to a dramatic growth in the proportion of adults above State Pension age, alongside a shrinkage in the number of working-age adults. This has led to government concerns regarding not only the cost of funding State Pensions, but also the skills shortages that have resulted from the loss of older adults from the labour market via retirement. Successive UK governments have implemented a range of measures designed to encourage individuals to continue in paid work for longer. The tone of policy discourse has shifted towards the individual, with a growing emphasis on the need for individual workers to take responsibility for financial planning for their own retirement.
In this report, we consider and discuss extended working life (EWL) policies in light of current academic research. We start by presenting statistical data on UK employment rates, in order to outline the trends in age, gender and employment in recent decades. We then discuss six policy areas related to extending working life. First, we compare women and men’s participation in the labour market over the life-course. Second, policy changes related to age are discussed, including age discrimination legislation and changes to State Pension age. Third, we consider changes to social security benefits. Fourth, we provide an overview of the UK pensions system, including recent changes to the system, the introduction of occupational pensions and autoenrolment, and opportunities for combining pensions and working. Fifth, we discuss policies related to family and caring (including grandparents’ leave). Sixth, we consider flexible work policies in the context of later-life working. The report concludes with a discussion on the potential gaps in research on extending working lives in the UK national context.