House of Lords enquiry on alcohol risks and over 50s work and retirement

Posted 14.06.2016

Over the last few weeks, ILC-UK, as part of the Drink Wise, Age Well partnership, have held three Inquiry sessions looking at the issue of alcohol-related harm in the over 50s population of the UK. The theme for this year of the programme is Employment, unemployment and retirement, and an Inquiry session was held on each of these three areas. This blog explains the reasons for holding this Inquiry, how the outputs will be used, and some of the key insights that emerged from the Inquiry.

The first State of the Nation Report from Drink Wise, Age Well found that in the over 50s population there was often a complex relationship between alcohol, employment and retirement. The data from our large-scale survey found that:

  • For those surveyed whose alcohol use had increased, 40% cited retirement and 20% cited loss of purpose as the reason.
  • Characteristics of ‘higher risk’ drinkers included long-term health conditions.
  • ‘Increasing risk’ drinkers were more likely to be still in employment.

Drink Wise, Age Well identified this area as a priority for our campaigning for 2016, and it will be the theme of the next State of the Nation Report, published later in the year. However there is a small evidence base; in this light, we invited expert witnesses to share their expertise and experiences, and an invited audience were able to ask questions to any of the speakers. The findings from the three Inquiry sessions will inform the upcoming report.

It was important to hear from a wide range of experts. Our speakers included people who have used treatment services or employment services, large companies, academics, parliamentarians and service providers. Below, we have included some of the most important themes which emerged from the Inquiry sessions.

Inquiry 1: Alcohol and over 50s out of work and seeking employment

There was a general consensus that the over 50s population faced specific challenges when seeking employment, which are only exacerbated if they drink heavily. These specific challenges included:

  • Attitudes from some employers who see no value in hiring older workers
  • A decline in traditional manufacturing jobs, which means that over 50s often do not have the necessary skill sets to find other work.

Further points raised from the speakers included:

  • There is a disproportionately high number of ex-servicemen struggling with both employment and alcohol problems.
  • Long-term drinking habits and long-term unemployment can lead to social isolation and low feelings of self-worth, which exacerbate both issues.
  • In some work schemes, service users who drink at a harmful level have a higher dropout rate than those who don’t. However the data seems to indicate that if they continue with the work programme for a number of weeks, the dropout rate is no different to those who do not drink excessively.

Inquiry 2: Alcohol and over 50s currently in employment

This Inquiry addressed the challenges faced by over 50s at risk from alcohol-related harm who were in employment. The Inquiry heard from a range of individuals including an ex-service user who spoke of his relationship between alcohol and work. He cited employment as the single most important factor in his recovery; however there were significant barriers to him finding work, including criminal convictions and a poor credit history.

Further points raised included:

  • There is a significant trend of high levels of alcohol consumption amongst professional women over 50, from higher socio-economic backgrounds.
  • Employees over 50 are often in managerial positions, which can increase work-related stress.
  • Whilst cultures of heavy alcohol consumption during work have largely decreased in recent years, there remain many sectors, particularly professional sectors, where excessive alcohol consumption is ‘part of the job’.
  • Whilst many large global companies have good workplace health programmes, many SMEs do not, often due to limited resources.

Inquiry 3: Alcohol and over 50s transitioning to, or currently in, retirement

Retirement is one of the most significant life transitions a person goes through, and the role alcohol can have in retirement is important. The Inquiry heard the findings of a recent qualitative study which looked at alcohol use during retirement. It was highlighted that most people in the study drank moderate amounts of alcohol, and it can often play a positive social role in retirement. People at a higher risk from alcohol related harm can often have a complex relationship with alcohol, and strategies to reduce harm must be similarly nuanced.

Further points raised from the speakers included:

  • For retired people who are drinking harmfully or recovering, volunteering can play a positive role in keeping busy and giving structure to the day.
  • Certain groups of retired people who are at risk from alcohol-related harm are particularly hard to reach, including older South Asian men and older LGBT people.
  • Alcohol is often used as a respite for older retired carers.

This information, alongside other evidence provided at the Inquiry, will inform our next Drink Wise, Age Well report, to be published in late 2016.