Concerns are being raised about the number of workers over the age of 50 who are still furloughed, days before the scheme comes to an end.
More than 540,000 people in the age group were on furlough at the end of July, accounting for 35% of the total, according to research.
Rest Less, which offers help and advice for older people, said the pandemic has “devastated” the job market for older workers over the past two years.
Founder Stuart Lewis said the full impact might still to be felt, adding: “With more than half a million people aged 50 or older still on furlough at the last count, we may well see hundreds of thousands of hardworking, experienced older workers enter redundancy and, ultimately, find themselves looking for a new job in the run-up to Christmas.
“The jobs market is polarised at the moment. On the one hand, we have record job vacancies and companies struggling to hire talent in key areas, for example HGV drivers and healthcare.
“On the other side, unemployment levels across many age groups have yet to recover and we are seeing huge falls in economic activity amongst midlifers.
“Much more can be done to help bridge these gaps through intensive retraining and accelerated assessment programmes.”
Rest Less said its research suggested long-term trends of employment growth among the over-50s has been reversed over the past two years.
Stuart Lewis added: “The loss of any large proportion of society from the workforce is cause for significant concern and risks holding back the economic recovery for all.
“Whilst for some workers aged 50 and older economic inactivity is a choice and a planned exit from the workforce, many others are finding themselves faced with an early retirement they are neither financially or emotionally prepared for.”
A UK Government spokesperson said: “Our £400bn Plan for Jobs is working – nearly two million fewer people are now expected to be out of work than was previously feared.
“Furlough was the right thing to do to protect almost 12 million jobs when Covid was at its peak but now restrictions have eased, people are returning to work and the scheme is naturally winding down, with 194,000 more people aged 50-64 on payrolls compared to a year ago.
“We’re doubling down on our plan as the economy rebounds – refocusing our support on giving people of all ages the skills and opportunities they need to get back into work, progress and earn more, including older workers through our 50 Plus: Choices offer.”
Emily Andrews, of the Centre for Ageing Better, said: “Throughout the pandemic, over-50s have been hit hard by redundancies, and it’s likely that the end of the furlough scheme will be no exception.
“Job losses for this group are particularly worrying, as we know that they are more likely to struggle to get back into work. In the past, back-to-work support simply hasn’t worked for the over-50s.
“That means we now need to see an intensive programme of support for older workers to get back into work, including support to retrain and reskill.”