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UK government should focus on younger workers, not just over-50s, employers say

Worker prepares pieces of metal to be galvanised inside the factory of Corbetts The Galvanizers in Telford

By David Milliken

LONDON (Reuters) - British finance minister Jeremy Hunt should try to boost employment across all age ranges in Wednesday's budget statement, and not focus primarily on the over-50s, a human resources professional body said on Sunday.

The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) said there were more people aged 16 to 24 who were unemployed or outside the labour market and wanting a job than there were in the 50 to 64 age group.

Unlike in most other rich countries, Britain's labour force is still notably smaller than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Around three quarters of the loss of workers has been made up of people aged between 50 and 64, due to a mix of early retirement and ill health. But the CIPD pointed to the high number of younger people who were outside the labour market.

"It's important that the current focus on addressing the decline of over-50s in employment doesn't obscure the need and opportunity to get more young people into work," CIPD economist Jon Boys said.

Hunt has said he is looking at measures to boost workforce participation, potentially including changes to welfare benefits and private pension rules. In January he urged those who had retired early to do more than just play golf.

However, many people who have retired early are not under financial pressure to go back to work, while those who are unwell can face long waits for medical treatment.

The CIPD said the government should spend more on school careers guidance and change apprenticeship programmes, which many employers view as too rigid and which have seen falling take-up by young people since a re-launch in 2017.

The government should also provide more occupational health support for small businesses, and offer more generous state-funded sick pay that allowed workers to return part-time, the CIPD added.

(Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by William Schomberg)