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Return to work, John Lewis urges over-50s

John Lewis boss pleads with over-50s to ditch retirement and return to work to prevent stagflation

The boss of John Lewis has called on the over-50s to re-enter the workforce to prevent the economy from falling into the grip of ‘stagflation’.

Dame Sharon White, who has headed the department store group since February 2020, said the labour market was ‘tight’ due to fewer people looking for work, explaining that this would ‘inevitably’ lead to more inflation.

White pleaded for the 1million who had left the workforce during the Covid-19 pandemic – most of whom were aged between 50 and 70 – to return to the job market and called on the Government to provide support.

Plea: Sharon White said the labour market was ‘tight’ due to fewer people looking for work

She said such a large number of those leaving the labour market could cause ‘profound, long-term, systemic implications’, adding that she wanted to see ‘more of a debate between business and government’.

She said: ‘The big focus for all of us is how do we avoid stagflation, how do we avoid the UK becoming Japan with very low and very persistent rates of productivity and very low persistent rates of growth. To come out of that, you’ve got to get businesses investing with a stable environment and great support.’

White, 55, warned that ‘never in my working career have I seen such a combination of very difficult factors’ as are facing the UK.

Inflation is expected to hit 13 per cent and the economy is predicted to tip into recession by the end of this year. 

But despite this, job vacancies are running at record highs due to the lack of workers, meaning employers are locked in a fierce battle to attract and retain staff, often by raising wages.

‘There’s not a business in the UK that is not finding it very difficult to recruit at the moment – it’s a big issue,’ White said.

It’s very difficult to recruit at the moment

She said John Lewis, which owns Waitrose, was being ‘very careful’ about how it passed on rising costs to customers.

It also paid a 3 per cent bonus this year to its 800,000 staff while also hiking wages by 2 per cent, but this is still below the inflation rate of 9.4pc.

The firm would be offering its workers a free meal each between October and January, when household energy bills are set to rocket. But White cautioned against hiking wages in response to surging inflation.

‘I think the same dilemmas [John Lewis] faces are the same the whole economy faces,’ she said. ‘On the one hand, we want to do as much as we can but on the other hand, we have to be mindful of a wage-price spiral.’