New report for International Workers Day; older people working longer for less

29 April 2010

On 1 May, International Workers Day, HelpAge International will launch a new report that uncovers how much work is done by older people in poorer countries and the difficulties they face.

Forgotten workforce; older people and their right to decent work is the first extensive investigation of older people and work in low- and middle-income countries. It dispels some popular myths: that older people do not work; that they are dependent on their families: and that they do not contribute to the economy. Instead, it reveals that millions of people across the world continue to work well into old age. It discusses the reasons why older people work, the types of work they do, and the challenges they face.

At a glance,

  • By 2050 there will be 2 billion older people in the world
  • Fewer than one in five older people receive any kind of pension
  • More than 70% of men over 60 continue to work in low- and middle-income countries
  • In Malawi, nearly 100% of men and over 80% of women over the age of 60 are working, compared with just over 20% of men and around 10% of women in the UK

Rodney Bickerstaffe, former President of the UK National Pensioners Convention and President of War on Want commented on the new report;

"I have campaigned for the protection of workers' rights and the right to a decent retirement - rights that those in secure jobs must always be vigilant to protect. And I have become only too aware that the conditions of older workers - women and men - are rarely considered by policymakers and politicians, particularly in developing countries. It's a common myth in the West that people in poorer countries can rely on savings, families or government support in old age. The vast majority of older people across the world have no option but to work into old age".

70 year old Mabia, a necklace maker from Bangladesh is just one example. "My daughter and I make necklaces for a living, and earn about 50 taka a day (US$0.75). I work from sunrise to sunset but I have cataracts and often feel weak and sick. Rising food prices mean we are buying smaller and smaller amount for rice and vegetables for ourselves and my grandchild"  

Richard Blewitt, Chief Executive of HelpAge International said:

"Older people told us they wanted to keep working to contribute to family income and to keep active and productive. Others say they work because they have no choice, because they have to support sick children or grandchildren in their care or because it is the only way they can make ends meet. Factors like poverty, migration, illiteracy, discrimination and changes in family units are forcing older people into work that is low-paid, physically dangerous, hazardous or insecure, endangering the lives and health of millions.

62 year old, Ngasirwaki Consolata from Uganda told us "with my pension I can buy food and pay off my microfinance loans. The reason I got the loan is because the bank knows that with my pension I can pay it back. If I did not have the pension I definitely would not be able to pay school fees".   

Richard Blewitt concluded:

"We're calling for governments across the world to implement non-contributory pensions to support income security for all older men and women. We also need to see the political will to enforce age discrimination legislation to protect older workers from discrimination and exploitation in both the formal and informal economy."


Notes to Editors

HelpAge International is a global network of organisations helping older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination and overcome poverty, so that they can lead dignified, secure, active and healthy lives.

The full policy report Forgotten workforce: older people and their right to decent work can be downloaded here

A shorter version of the report, which includes statistics and cases studies Unreported Lives; the truth about older people's work can also be downloaded. 

A Flickr gallery containing supporting cases studies and photographs can be found at

For more information about this report and spokespeople contact Rosaleen Cunningham on or +44 (0) 207 148 7623