Work returnee aged 50+? Forget golf entirely, swing for freelancing instead

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All eyes in the self-employed community will soon be on freelance-friendly ideas for his Autumn Statement 2023. But it was back at his Spring Budget that Jeremy Hunt focused on a significant rise in post-pandemic economic inactivity by people his own age -- the over-50s, writes VIQU boss Matt Collingwood, an award-winning business leader and mentor.

In fact, the chancellor highlighted that there are 3.5million over-50s who contribute to this demographic -- Britons who are not working nor are looking for work -- which represents a hefty increase of some 320,000 versus pre-covid.

Jeremy Hunt, the ex-marketing and publishing business boss was onto something…

Hunt’s reported comments back in February 2023, effectively saying the over-50s ‘need to get off the golf course’ were a bit clumsy, and he was criticised for them. Yet with many employers struggling to recruit certain skills in high demand, I’d wager that quite a few of employers, whether they top-up their pool of skills with freelancers or not, will be sympathetic to the sentiment behind his comments.

And in a sign that they don’t think the former founder of a PR company, who went on to run a publishing business is barking up the wrong tree, the government remains focused on encouraging the inactive over-50s back into the workplace, some five months after the chancellor’s ‘golf course’ remark hit the rough.

Self-employment if you’re over 50-years-old

So is freelancing a good option for over-50s, and are businesses doing enough to support freelancers coming back into the workforce?

At the time of writing, I cannot assert from my position (that’s the coalface of recruitment) that there has been a huge surge in freelancer-returnees, in technology/digital or creative sectors.

That said, following their official ‘retirement,’ I have seen a handful of individuals returning to the freelance fold, for just a few days’ self-employment, here and there. Perhaps that’s the beauty of self-employment – it allows professionals to dip their toe back into the waters of work on a whim or a moment’s notice.

A silver lining?

But, if one positive thing could still come out of the ongoing, stubborn cost-of-living crisis, it could be that more individuals try their hands at creative or tech freelancing, even if it is because their hands feel financially forced.

It therefore seems prudent to ask -- how would the over-50s who might mull getting back into the workforce via freelancing benefit?

Four advantages of returning to work as a 50-something

1. Pension benefits

As mentioned in a previous FreelanceUK article, the government is incentivising people of retirement-saving age to get ‘back to work’ via tax reform relating to nest eggs.

2. Part-time opportunities / flexibility

As referred to already, freelancing often provides part-time opportunities, but also the flexibility to work for a few months of the year here and there, with the sole trader structure being tailor-made for individuals wanting to act quickly while they feel the lure of entrepreneurship.

Take ‘Ray’ for example (not his real name). He retired before the pandemic to spend more time with his grandchildren. But then the national lockdowns scuppered his reasons for retiring, so he told me he decided to get back into freelancing.

Ray has since landed short, commercial contracts, allowing him to work around his grandchildren’s school holidays.So a tiny uplift for the economy semi-resulted because of covid. As I suggested previously, the same economic bump from more self-employment could conceivably happen from the cost-of-living crisis, too.

3. Keeping the mind (and body) active

Freelancing is a fantastic way for the over-50s to utilise the hard and ‘soft’ skills they acquired throughout their careers, without any onus on them to stay in a job long-term or get bogged down in office politics.

Indeed, I know of numerous, previously retired freelancers who decided to get back into freelancing because they were simply bored!

Take ‘Phileas’ for example (not his real name). He retired so that alongside his wife he could travel the world (not necessarily in 80 days!).

But the pandemic thwarted his international roaming plan and since then, travel has become much more expensive. An active person who always likes to have a project on the go, Phileas soon became restless at home. So he told me has chosen to go back into the workplace as a consultant, in a freelance capacity, at hours and rates he pretty much sets.

4. Freelancing can be picked up and put down again as demand dictates

According to The Office For National Statistics, stress is the second most common reason that over-50s exit the workplace.

To an extent, freelancing can expunge this issue due to the very nature of how freelancing works.

I’ve seen lots of narratives around health largely being the factor to impact over-50s contributing to economic inactivity, with increasing NHS waiting times, increased mental health issues, and higher needs for caring for family members, with conditions like long-covid negatively impacting the labour market.

However, data from the Institute for Fiscal Studies seems to oppose this popular argument. The think tank’s data indicates that increases in inactivity associated with health largely involved individuals who had already been deemed as ‘economically inactive’ for at least five years.

The IFS uses data which tracks individuals over an extended period, instead of just at that particular time like the ONS does, therefore appearing to give the IFS richer, more reliable data.

For the most part, those in their 50s or 60s who recently retired did so simply because they chose to cease working.

But if you’re reading this as a 50-something, and feeling tempted to re-fire your career -- or professionalise your retirement hobby as a freelancer, perhaps the ultimate question is:

Will an individual aged 50-plus be well-received if they return to the workplace?

The lack of employment opportunities for over-50s has been widely covered in the press of late, despite the Age Discrimination Act 2006.

With 1 in 10 employers introducing specific support for retaining employees aged 50+ (according to Aviva’s Working Lives 2023 report), employers are clearly beginning to recognise the untapped skills of this life-experienced UK demographic.

Furthermore, and signalling engagers do indeed want the wisdom of someone beyond their forties, an overwhelming 75% of employers polled in 2023 by Censuswide for Aviva agreed it was “important” to retain the over-50s as talent.

My message to anyone over 50-years-old seeking freelance opportunities? Go for it!

Don’t listen to the negative messages, or ageist headlines occasionally seen in the mainstream media, indicating the aspiring self-employed should stay ‘aspiring.’ There is always plenty of room for skilled, able professionals with decades and decades of ‘soft’ skills. And as a recruitment company boss let me assure you -- despite the dicey economy, demand remains high for certain technical skills and niche professionals. Many companies I’m currently speaking with continue to really STRUGGLE with sourcing the right ‘resource’ – as they call it.

In short, and as our late-fifties, golf-commentating chancellor will tell you, a significant gap in our labour market remains. Both nationally and locally. So are you the seasoned career professional able to provide the perfect bridge? Why not contact a freelancer-friendly staffing agency in your locality to get a definitive answer.

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