EHRC Scotland report finds increased number of older people working past retirement and two-thirds living alone at risk of isolation

Published: 26 Nov 2015

An Equality and Human Rights Commission Scotland report published today shows an increased number of Scots are working past retirement with over 9,000 men and women aged between 65-74 clocking up over 49 hours per week.

The census analysis carried out by Stirling University also showed older people are at risk of isolation with two-thirds of older Scots living alone and potentially cut off from society due to health problems or a lack of public transport.

The issue of unpaid care was another notable finding of the report. Around 11 per cent of people over 65 were shown to undertake unpaid care, with around half contributing over 50 hours per week. Two-thirds of these older carers with the poorest health provide over 50 hours per week.

Alastair Pringle, EHRC Scotland Director said:

'The over-60s are the fastest-growing group in society; there are more pensioners than ever before. This has exposed a number of issues around getting older in Scotland, which are new to us. As Age UK say, ageing is not an illness, but it can be challenging and we at the EHRC want to do all we can to reduce inequality to harness the talents of all Scottish people regardless of age, gender, race or any other protected characteristic. There are a number of interesting findings in the report, particularly showing how more Scottish pensioners are working past retirement age. For many, working past retirement is an active choice with people wanting to continue to contribute to their communities. However given the concentration of older people working in low paid occupations like cleaning and security and the associated long hours, it is likely that for some working past retirement is a means to alleviate poverty and increase income. Equal opportunities are vital at every stage in life; no one should be denied their right to play a full and functioning role in society because of their age. The Commission hopes that this report can provide a valuable snapshot of some of the challenges facing older Scots, but also some of the opportunities. Older people in Scotland have a huge amount to offer.'

Notes to Editors

The full report can be found here.

For further information or bids, please contact Sarah Thoms, Communications Manager on 0141 228 5974 or 07854 193592.

Top line statistics

  • Our census analysis shows that 7.2% of Scots over the age of 65 are in work, a rise from the 2001 figure (6.8%). Men are twice as likely as women to be working past 65. Self-employment is important – 4 out of every 10 men working over 65 are self-employed. 
  • The most common form of employment was in skilled trades (electrical engineers, construction farming etc.,) followed by elementary occupations (cleaning, security etc.) and professional occupations. People over 65 are least likely to work in care provision, as drivers or in admin or secretarial roles.
  • 1/3 of women over 65 who are in work, work more than 30 hours a week compared to 2/3rds of men
  • 7,806 men and 1,455 women aged 65-74 work over 49 hours per week.
  • Those aged over 65 and in work are twice as likely to be working full time as part time.
  • There are also 1,700 people over 65 who describe themselves as students, compared with only 60 in 2001.
  • Around 11 per cent of people over 65 undertake unpaid care, with around half of them contributing over 50 hours per week. This rate is double that of the 50-64 age-group, and only a quarter of those carers provide the most hours.
  • Proportionally older men are more likely to be carers than older women (11.5% compared with 10.1%), but due to population sizes there are more women than men providing care aged over 65.
  • Under half of those carers over 65 with good health provide at least 20 hours care per week compared to 81 per cent of those with the worst health. Two-thirds of older carers with the poorest health provide over 50 hours per week.

Executive Summary

This research briefing shows the range of activities and experiences that relate to the standard of living of older people in Scotland. The data furthers our understanding of housing, health, unpaid care and the inequalities that relate to these as people get older. The main findings of the review are:

  • The growth between 2001 and 2011 in the people aged over 50 was equivalent to 98 per cent of the rise in Scotland’s overall population. This is due to both people living longer and larger numbers of people turning 50.
  • Although the older population is predominantly white (96.4 per cent) the ethnic minority population of Scotland aged over 65 has tripled since 2001.
  • There are indications that fewer people are taking early retirement. In 2011, 65 per cent of Scottish residents aged 50-64 were employed compared to 45 per cent in 2001.
  • The majority of those over 65 are retired (88.5 per cent) but there is a substantial group of those aged between 65 and 75 working over 38 hours a week. Scottish residents are working past retirement age, and often working long hours and commuting long distances (37 per cent of men and 26 per cent of women travel over 10 kilometres to work).
  • There are increasing numbers of single people and people living alone in the older population – 63 per cent of people aged over 65 live alone.
  • Older people at risk of social isolation through health problems reported the lowest levels of household access to cars. Public transport is a key support mechanism in many areas.
  • Around 10 per cent of older people over 65 undertake unpaid care. Those in the poorest health are more likely to be carers for over 50 hours a week (81 per cent).
  • Unpaid care amongst people aged over 50 with long-term limiting conditions varies by council area, with the highest in West Dunbartonshire – 15.4 per cent compared to 13.5 per cent national average.
  • There has been a rise in single people entering communal establishments. Women over 75 are much more likely than men to live in communal establishments; 42 per cent of women over 95 are in such homes.
  • Overcrowding becomes less of an issue as people grow older: one in 20 older people lives in an overcrowded room, compared to 10 per cent of 35-49 year olds and 15 per cent of children.
  • 1,300 older people are living in overcrowded accommodation without heating.
  • Health inequalities are becoming larger for older people living in Scotland. Health inequality by socio-economic position is growing amongst the older population (50-74) – 17 per cent of those who worked in routine roles have poor health, compared to 4 per cent who were in higher professional or managerial roles.
  • Those in social rented accommodation report more health problems. For example 62 per cent of home owners over 65 report good health, compared to 37 per cent of those over 65 in socially rented accommodation.

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