Media Release

Cut National Insurance to help older jobseekers get hired

National Insurance rates should be cut for employers hiring older jobseekers, a think-tank has suggested. 

The Social Market Foundation said that ever-longer working lives make it more important to help people over 50 get back into work if they lose their jobs 

Tax cuts should be used to make older workers who lose their jobs and take part in new government skills training schemes cheaper to employ, the SMF said. 

Lower rates of employers’ National Insurance would make such workers more attractive to recruiters, the think-tank said in a new report ahead of the Budget in March. 

The idea is put forward in an SMF report based on a roundtable discussion with senior politicians, officials, business leaders and academics. 

The SMF, a cross-party think-tank, said that rising longevity and retirement ages will soon make the “50-year career” the norm for many people. 

Working for half a century will require more people to change careers and acquire new skills, but the SMF report found that Britain is poorly prepared for the 50-year career. 

Polling conducted as part of the SMF study found that less than four in ten people aged 35 to 54 say they are interested in changing careers. People in that age group may be less than halfway through their working lives and are very likely to have to change jobs more than once before retirement, the SMF warned.  

Such findings mean politicians should launch a public education campaign to make people aware of their likely future skills needs, the SMF said.  Its report was part of a project sponsored by AIG Life.

The SMF also proposed a significant overhaul of skills support for workers. The Government has proposed to spend £3 billion over this parliament on a new National Skills Fund, but the SMF said that plan was nowhere near ambitious enough. 

Ministers should learn from Singapore, which offers a “SkillsFuture Credit” subsidy for anyone carrying out an approved training scheme. The UK could learn from that by relaunching Individual Learning Accounts, abandoned in 2001 due to IT failures and fraud.

For those workers over 50 who lose their jobs for “structural” reasons – for instance, because a factory closes or their company goes bust – and use the new Skills Fund to retrain, employer National Insurance Contributions should be reduced, the SMF said. 

This could help to incentivise employers to hire workers who may require training or who are approaching State Pension Age. The report noted that there is precedent for varying NICs by age – employers of workers under 21 do not have to pay Class 1 National Insurance, to encourage them to hire younger staff. 

The SMF also urged ministers to move ahead with implementing plans to offer a “lifelong learning loan allowance”, which could be used to fund higher technical and degree level education at any stage in an adult’s career.

This was proposed in the independent Augar Review last year, but has not yet been accepted by government. A member of the Augar Review team, Baroness Alison Wolf, is a former SMF trustee who now works in the No 10 Policy Unit.

Kathryn Petrie, SMF Chief Economist said: 

On tax cuts:

“People over 50 still have years to go before retirement and getting them back to work after unemployment should be a higher priority.  Making it cheaper to hire and employ them by cutting national insurance rates for them should be on the Budget agenda this year.”

“Someone who loses their job in their early 50s could have nearly 20 years of working life ahead of them. Policymakers should be looking at bolder options for helping make sure they can get back into work.”

On public education:

“As life expectancy continues to rise, the number of years spent working is likely to increase. The 50-year career will become the norm. But our polling shows that many people aren’t aware of this change and aren’t thinking about how to make sure they have the skills they’ll need in future.” 

“As well as better skills provision, politicians need to start a national conversation about the implications of our longer lives.”


In research for the 100 Year Life project, Opinium conducted a nationally representative poll of 3,003 adults (who are not retired) between 16th and 23rd August 2019.

Key findings: 

  • Less than four in ten of those aged 35 to 54 are interested in changing careers, those in the lower end of this age bracket have at least thirty years remaining in the labour market
  • One in three of those aged 35 to 54 believe they would need additional training and qualifications in order to change careers.
  • Almost two-thirds (63%) of respondents had taken time out of the labour market during their working life (either voluntary or involuntary)
  • Three quarters (77%) of those who took time out the labour market were able to return to the same career / industry sector – however, one fifth (22%) of those who returned to the same career or industry were moved sideways or into a lower paying role.


  • The SMF’s 100 Year Life project was kindly supported by AIG Life, the UK life insurance arm of AIG.  The SMF, a registered charity, retains editorial independence over all its publications and discloses all its sources of funding.
  • Unemployment among people aged 50-64 is 2.7%.  Another 25.3% of the age group are classed as economically inactive.

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact the SMF:

Barbara Lambert, SMF media officer: and 020 7222 7060

James Kirkup, SMF director:

About the SMF:

The Social Market Foundation (SMF) is a non-partisan think tank. We believe that fair markets, complemented by open public services, increase prosperity and help people to live well. We conduct research and run events looking at a wide range of economic and social policy areas, focusing on economic prosperity, public services and consumer markets. The SMF is resolutely independent, and the range of backgrounds and opinions among our staff, trustees and advisory board reflects this.

The SMF retains complete editorial independence of its publications.


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