Study finds older British workers have been hit harder by the economic downturn than those in other countries.

The UK is lagging behind countries of similar wealth in getting people over the age of 50 into work – and the recession is widening the gap between nations, a major report warns.

If we could match the employment rates of the top five performing countries, 1.5 million people aged between 50 and 64 would be in employment.

However, joblessness among older people in the UK has soared by 53% since the onset of the financial crisis in 2008, according to a study by the Resolution Foundation. The UK has fallen from 10th to 15th out of 34 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The proportion of older jobless people who remain without work for more than a year has risen from 33.2% to 44.5%, in contrast to “comparable economies which saw stronger growth in older employment rates over the same period, such as Canada, Germany and Australia”, the report found.

The study, Unfinished Business: Barriers and Opportunities for Older Workers, said: “The result has been a fall in the relative position of the UK in terms of older employment rates since 2008. This suggests that older employment has been more affected in the UK than elsewhere in the downturn.” Older women face particular barriers, with only 60% of older women in work compared with 72% of older men.

The report argues that planned rises in the state pension age are a step in the right direction, increasing financial incentives for older workers, particularly women, to remain in employment, but only if there are parallel reforms to tackle six key hurdles to support greater employment among over-50s.

They are: a lack of adequate financial incentives to remain in, or return to, work; significant caring responsibilities; lack of employment support to move back into work, including training; limited access to flexible working opportunities; continued age discrimination; and poor health.

Gavin Kelly, chief executive of the Resolution Foundation, said: “Older workers have fared comparatively well in our jobs market in the last decade, but the truth is we’re still nowhere near the podium internationally. There are very few opportunities to boost living standards in the coming years and we can’t afford to squander one.

“These findings should spur us on to make our labour market fit for older workers, from giving tailored employment support, providing higher quality part-time work and finally biting the bullet on a social care settlement to relieve caring pressures.”