Earlier this week Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride suggested that that older people should consider working for Deliveroo, the takeaway delivery company. His idea was derided in some quarters as something akin to sending children back up the chimneys and down the mines.
But is it really so ridiculous?
To start with the specific company in question, Deliveroo has recorded a 62% increase in riders aged over 50 in recent years. Presumably many were attracted by the same flexibility that tends to also attract students and young people with varying work schedules.
After all, many older workers may not necessarily want to be in full time employment, but do want some additional income and to keep active. Nor does such work need to be particularly strenuous, given that riders can use cars, motorcycles and electric bikes to get around.
There’s a much broader issue here though: the daunting prospect of an ageing population and greater numbers retiring earlier, particularly since the pandemic. There are 3.4 million people over 50, but below retirement age, who are out of work, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Some of these people are too unwell to keep working, while others have saved enough to leave early. But many others clearly can work, at least on a part-time basis. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, nearly half of older people who had retired early during the pandemic are now struggling financially and there’s really nothing outrageous in Stride’s suggestion that some of them could work part-time.
Of course, in the overblown world of social media and clickbait, things were quickly blown out of all proportion. The ever-reliable James O’Brien, for example, went on a 20 minute rant on his LBC show, talking about how he would never want his own mother delivering takeaways into the night. (Though presumably he wouldn’t want her hosting a radio show either, as he thinks it’s ‘harder than manual labour’).
Much of this is undoubtedly O’Brien’s reflexive opposition to pretty much anything the Government does, usually couched in a wearied sigh about the sorry state of the world. But his description of Deliveroo riding as a ‘McJob’ which is ‘meaningless’ betrays a rather more deep-seated snobbery towards certain kinds of work. Given the parlous state of the British economy, the number of people on out of work benefits and the dire public finances, we really can’t afford to turn our noses up at jobs that some champagne socialists see as beyond the pale.
The deeper point is that we simply cannot sustain the combination of a shrinking working age population, low levels of economic growth and ever-growing public spending. The number of people relying on welfare is not just a cost to the Exchequer, but a depressing waste of human potential. So, Mel Stride should ignore the brickbats and carry on doing whatever he can to encourage people back into work – be it delivering takeaways or whatever else takes their fancy.
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