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UK cost-of-living crisis pushing retired pensioners back to work

Published: Updated:

Amid the war in Europe and Britain’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, a strange phenomenon has been brewing in the UK as large numbers of retired pensioners are returning to the workforce in droves.

Estimates produced by The Office of National Statistics suggest that there has been an increase of 116,000 people over the age of 50 in Britain looking for work with over half of these being men over the pension age.

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Christopher Brooks, head of Policy at Age UK, explains that the phenomena can be partially understood as a reaction to the large number of people retiring during the pandemic – leaving the workforce only to return as Britain’s COVID-19 restrictions ease and workplace conditions return to normalcy.

However, this analysis can only partially explain this phenomenon. According to Brooks, “with the cost-of-living pressures and the very high cost of living we’ve been experiencing lately, it’s likely that people are struggling to make ends meet and need the income from paid employment since working does provide a much higher income than relying upon benefits.”

With data suggesting that inflation is set to continue to rise in Britain within the coming months, there are fears that the cost-of-living crisis is likely to intensify. Some economists are suggesting that inflation could peak at 15 percent at the beginning of next year, with the Bank of England already revising its inflation prediction for this coming Autumn to 13 percent, leading many to face even greater financial hardship.

Meanwhile, Britain’s COVID-19 recovery has proven lacklustre in its own right. The British economy is predicted to contract in the final quarter of this year as GDP growth is set to be negative for the second consecutive quarter. This has resulted in a situation for many where incomes are failing to fall in line with rising inflation leading to a drastic drop in living standards.

Small business owners feeling the pinch

Nazakat Hussein, a small business owner, who has been working in South London’s East Street Market for over 30 years, said the effects of a contracting economy and rising prices have meant sharp declines in his profit margins in recent months as customers are paying less and costs are rising.

As Britain faces one of the hottest summers on record with temperatures exceeding 40°C, Hussain said he’s left with deciding between keeping the lights on and using a fan to keep his shop cool.

“Energy prices used to be, 3 months back, 4 months back, around £100 ($120) for one month but now, for the same usage, it must be £130-£140 ($156-$169) for a month. That’s the cost of the shop. So really that’s the whole extra. Earning less and paying extra,” he said.

Spiralling oil prices, caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the failure of much of the Petroleum industry to facilitate the spike in demand post-COVID have led to exorbitant energy costs, for customers and businesses alike.

Winter to see sharp rise in energy demand

The looming winter is anticipated to see a sharp rise in demand for energy as temperatures in Britain get colder. With the energy price cap potentially rising to a record figure of $3,983 (£3300) it is believed that up to 40 percent of British households could face energy poverty. Making tough decisions between eating meals or turning on heaters.

Winters in the UK can be dangerous, particularly for the elderly and vulnerable. Low temperatures can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes in an older person, exacerbate lung conditions and worsen arthritis.

People walk past shops and market stalls, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in east London, Britain, January 23, 2021. (Reuters)
People walk past shops and market stalls, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in east London, Britain, January 23, 2021. (Reuters)

London was already one of the world’s most expensive cities to live in before the pandemic. As Britain’s cost of living crisis continues and the elderly face the possibility of not being able to heat their homes, it is likely that there will be an increase in elderly people re-joining the workforce.

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