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John Lewis boss Sharon White: Over 50s who retired during Covid are fuelling inflation


John Lewis boss Sharon White: Over 50s who retired during Covid are fuelling inflation
Since coronavirus restrictions have been removed, many industries have struggled to recruit workers as demand has returned.
// John Lewis chairman Dame Sharon White says those who retired during the pandemic should go back to work to help avert a recession in the UK
// She said introducing flexible retirement plans and skills courses for older workers to retrain in different jobs could encourage people back into work

John Lewis boss Dame Sharon White has said the government must think “really hard” about how to get more older people back into work after an exodus of over 50s left their jobs during the pandemic.

The UK has seen one million people, mostly in their 50s, leave work since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak –  fuelling wage inflation.

People who retired during the pandemic should now return to work in order to avert a recession said White.


She told the BBC: “Regardless of what has happened coming out of Covid, if the labour market is that tight, if we continue to have far fewer people in work, looking for work – you’ve inevitably got more inflation and more wage inflation.”

The John Lewis chairman said she had “never seen anything quite like the economic environment” at the moment, adding it was vital that the UK avoided an extended period of low productivity and low rates of growth.

“How do we avoid the UK becoming Japan with very low, very persistently low rates of productivity and very low persistent rates of growth? To come out of that you have got to get businesses investing.”

She said introducing flexible retirement plans for people and skills courses for older workers to retrain for different jobs could help encourage people back into work.

Inflation is currently at a 40-year high while the Bank of England has warned the UK will fall into recession later this year.

White, who is a former Treasury civil servant, said she was cautious about giving advice to her former colleagues, but said “one area” that had not had “enough attention” was the jobs market situation over the last 18 months.

“There’s not a business in the UK that’s not finding it very difficult to recruit at the moment because there are so many more jobs and so far fewer people looking for work. It’s a big issue,” she explained.

Dame Sharon admitted trading for John Lewis had been “tough” over the past few months, with the retailer discussing how it can help customers through loyalty schemes as well its staff.

She said John Lewis had doubled its financial assistance fund – a pot of cash where workers can apply for grants and loans if they have difficulty paying bills – from £400,000 to £800,000.

John Lewis has also handed out a bonus of 3% this year to its 80,000, equivalent to one-and-a-half weeks’ pay, and increased wages by 2%.

However, the current rate at which prices are rising is at 9.4% and is expected to peak at 13% later this year.

Asked why John Lewis couldn’t increase its wages in line with the rising cost of living, White said the department store retailer had to “try to balance how do we ensure our partners are able to cope with the cost of living whilst also thinking about the affordability of pay for the business”.

“I think the same dilemmas that the partnership faces are the same dilemmas that the whole of the economy faces,” she added.

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