‘It was frightening’: four Britons on returning to work after retiring

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After record numbers of people aged 50 and over in the UK left the workforce as a result of the pandemic, the trend has begun to reverse as the cost of living crisis has forced some to reconsider early retirement.

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This week, a report by the Lords economic affairs committee said earlier retirement among 50- to 64-year-olds was the biggest contributor to a rise in economic inactivity of 565,000 UK citizens since the start of the pandemic. Peers said this trend was putting the economy at risk of weaker growth and persistently higher inflation.

Four people share what led them to begin working again, sometimes after a hiatus of several years and in a different role, and how long they hope to stay economically active.

‘I didn’t go back to work because the chancellor wanted me to’

View image in fullscreenDave from Southport took voluntary redundancy from Royal Mail when he was 60. Photograph: Dave

Dave, 63, from Southport, Merseyside, retired at age 60 after 33 years at the Royal Mail, just before the pandemic began. “I took voluntary redundancy, and the plan was to do something else for a few years, enjoy myself,” he says.

“The Royal Mail pension is OK, but not enough for day-to-day living and holidays or nights out. So, about a year and a half ago, I realised I could do with another £500 a month, and went back to work, doing care in a residential children’s home, just as and when they needed me.”

Initially just using the extra income as a welcome top-up, Dave realised he couldn’t cover living costs such as utilities any more without using his savings when these hours dried up. Last month, he began a part-time job in a call centre on a law firm’s patient claim line for medical negligence.

“I do 17.5 hours a week, they gave me days I liked, it’s really flexible. This gets me another £500 to £600, which at the moment is more than just nice to have, it’s a requirement.”

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Dave says the chancellor’s concern over hundreds of thousands of working-age Britons who have left the workforce did not influence his decision to become economically active again.

“I have gone back to work predominantly because of the cost of living, it was a personal choice based on personal circumstances. I plan to work at least until I’m 66, when I’ll become eligible for my state pension. I’ll make a decision then about whether I’ll keep working or not.”

‘I discovered my niche at 59’

View image in fullscreenNicky Dalglish had a 15-year career break when she had children. Photograph: Nicky Dalglish

Nicky Dalglish started working again four years ago after her husband was made redundant. The 63-year-old, who works in the charity sector in London, had previously worked as an admin assistant in investment banking and stopped working for 15 years when she had children. “It became clear to me that I needed to contribute, even though a charity salary is minimum wage,” she says.

She now works as a project manager for a programme working with asylum seekers and refugees – a role she loves. She stresses that returning to the workforce can be particularly challenging for women. “After 15 years of being a stay-at-home mum, it was challenging to go back to work at 59. Most people have written you off.

“It was really frightening and daunting to start with – I was so worried about advances in technology in my absence. But it was all fine and I’ve been promoted a couple of times since,” she says. “Going from the challenge of no confidence to feeling in control is amazing.”

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Dalglish started working again primarily for economic reasons, and thought she had left the world of work for good when she quit investment banking close to two decades ago. “I had no plans to go back – I had my first child at 41. There was no way I thought I’d go back.”

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She works three days a week now, and says she “can’t envisage giving up [her job]”. “It’s gone beyond economical – I’m so invested in it,” she says, adding that she wishes she’d been in the charity sector from the start of her working life: “It’s like I’ve discovered my niche at the age of 59.”

‘My self-esteem has returned’

David, 62, a data manager in London, returned to the workforce this year after a three-year career break that began when he was made redundant from his job in the City in 2019. He now works three days a week for a charity, and volunteers at a food bank once a week.

“[My City role] had been well paid and I was able to live off the redundancy money for some time, especially as my wife was working,” he says, adding that he initially enjoyed having more time to go on long walks, to the cinema and to see friends. “But after a few months, the novelty of having time to myself wore off and I began to feel isolated, under-stimulated and guilty about not contributing financially. The pandemic obviously made this worse.”

He was also not financially ready to retire for good. “I’m not in a really hard financial situation but it makes it easier to have part-time work. I’m not earning loads but just enough to have enough day to day and be financially independent,” he says. He plans to continue working until he is 67.

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David says his role in the charity sector has boosted his confidence and he hopes to stay involved in voluntary work after retirement. “I completely support [the charity’s] aims, enjoy the work and love the people here. I feel valued and my self-esteem has returned.”

‘I needed the money’

After a career in social care, Elizabeth Bradley, from Somerset, left the workforce in her late 50s, discouraged by the impact of cuts to local authorities. “I worked for the county council in adult social care during the height of austerity – it was just too onerous to carry on in that role,” says Bradley, now 64.

She spent time travelling around New Zealand and Australia, but when Covid hit she began feeling unfulfilled. “At that point I didn’t feel I had enough in my life – I was bored. I was missing that workplace camaraderie and social interaction, not just because of Covid, because I wasn’t working. I needed to have purpose in life and I needed the income factor to motivate me,” she says.

Bradley rejoined the workforce a year ago, becoming a support worker at a charity – a role she says she really enjoys. Although she made the decision because she wanted to work again, she says the cost of living crisis has now made it a financial imperative. “Until the cost of living crisis, the finances were manageable – but it certainly wouldn’t be at all now. It became apparent very quickly I needed the money.”

She works up to 35 hours a week including overtime, and plans to keep working for many years yet. “I would like to think I could go on for as long as I can still offer what I do in the workplace. I can see myself working to 70, if not beyond.”

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