CHANCELLOR Jeremy Hunt has pleaded with early retirees to return to work, just days after reports emerged that the Tories are planning to raise the retirement age in the UK.

The Tory minister urged those who had left the workforce during the pandemic to rejoin, claiming that, “Britain needs you.”

Hunt cited data which showed millions of people have chosen to leave the workforce and said businesses would struggle to grow if they cannot find enough staff.

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However, the Chancellor did not reference recent figures which showed Brexit led to a shortfall of 333,000 in the UK labour force, mostly in the low-skilled economy, or the impact of the removal of freedom of movement across the European Union.

The findings were contained in a joint report by Centre for European Reform (CER) and UK in a Changing Europe, using Office for National Statistics (ONS) data. 

Hunt instead said employment was “vital” for his plan to spark growth in Britain, and called for retirees to consider returning to work to make up the shortfall of staff.

It comes just days after it emerged that the UK Government are planning to raise the retirement age to 68 by the mid 2030s, a move dubbed “scandalous” by the SNP. We also spoke to a Waspi woman who fumed at the decision and said it was impractical, as many older people will be physically unable to work that late in life.

The National: Hunt's comments came shortly after reports emerged the Tories are considering raising the retirement ageHunt's comments came shortly after reports emerged the Tories are considering raising the retirement age (Image: PA)

Speaking at a Bloomberg event, Hunt said: “High employment levels have long been a strength of our economic model.

“Since 2010, we have seen a record employment rate, the lowest unemployment in nearly 50 years, and labour market participation at an all-time high.”

The pandemic exposed “weaknesses” in the UK economy, the Chancellor said, noting that employment levels were lower than they were before the pandemic by around 300,000 people.

Around one fifth of working age adults in the UK are “economically inactive”, a figure that includes students, mothers and fathers caring for children and those with long-term illnesses. It also includes early retirees and those who have decided that work is not worth their time.

Hunt said: “Excluding students, this amounts to 6.6 million people, an enormous and shocking waste of talent and potential.

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He then claimed that around 5m of these people do not want to work. Hunt added: “If companies can’t employ the staff they need, they can’t grow.

“So, it’s time for a fundamental programme of reforms to support people with long-term conditions or mental illness to overcome the barriers and prejudices that prevent them from working.

“We will never harness the full potential of our country unless we unlock it for each and every one of our citizens. Nor will we fix our productivity puzzle unless everyone who can participate, does.

“So, to those who retired early after the pandemic, or haven’t found the right role after furlough, I say: Britain needs you. And we will look at the conditions necessary to make work worth your while.”

It comes as Hunt was asked repeatedly to clarify whether or not he has paid a tax penalty, following increased scrutiny on ministers' tax affairs following the Nadhim Zahawi row.

The scandal centres around a tax bill over the sale of shares in YouGov, a polling firm Zahawi founded.

Worth an estimated £27m, the cash was held by Balshore Investments, a company registered offshore in Gibraltar. Zahawi was chancellor at the time of the investigation by HMRC, and agreed to pay a fine. He is now facing an ethics probe after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak requested an investigation.

Hunt was asked three times if he had ever paid a HMRC fine, before disclosing to BBC News that he had not.

Asked to clarify, Hunt said: “I don’t normally comment about my own tax records.

“But, I am Chancellor, so, for the record: I haven’t paid a HMRC fine.”