Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Barriers to employment? Just ask the over-50s

I read a depressing document this week. PRIME (the people I did a business start-up course with last year) have put out a report called 'The missing million: illuminating the employment challenges of the over 50s'. That 'million' is the number of people over 50 they estimate to have been made ‘involuntarily workless’.

It's good that someone's raising the issue, but as Helen Walmsley-Johnson points out in a Gransnet post, they're not the first and they won't be the last and it's not worth much unless something changes.

Written by a demographic think-tank called the International Longevity Centre, this is the first of three reports looking at 'the economic barriers facing the over 50s'. Don't get me wrong, I am pleased that they are campaigning about this. But I don't think the message is a helpful one.

The report makes the economic case for needing to keep older people in the workplace (we're going to run out of young people). And it extrapolates from that the need for businesses to put more effort into keeping older people in their jobs. But it makes it sound like hard work for the businesses.

It talks about health problems or needing to look after family members. (And that might be true for some people, but not all of us.) It talks about older people wanting to work part-time to help the transition into retirement. (Do you know anyone who can afford to do that? I don't.) It talks about the need for employers to provide training for older people (because we're all too stupid to use computers, presumably). It talks, chillingly, about the need for employers to provide 'age appropriate' jobs. In fact, it makes it all our fault.

What it barely talks about is the real reason that most of us can't get back into the job market.

And you don't need a think-tank to identify the one single 'barrier' that's keeping us out of work. Everyone I know who's around my age and can't get a job could tell you what that is. And it's the one thing that's barely mentioned in this report.

Prejudice. It's as simple as that. There are so many stories about experienced, qualified people with lots to offer who can't get arrested when it comes to finding another job.

And the more that well-meaning bureaucrats push the idea that we are infirm and behind the times, the more this situation will continue. This way to the scrap heap, everyone.

Old age starts at 59. Official.

There's a really scary statistic in this report. It's from a 2001 Age UK survey looking at attitudes across Europe about ageing. In Greece, people think old age starts at 68. Across Europe, the average is 62. But the British are more ageist than anywhere else in Europe: they think that old age begins at 59. That's six years years before you can get a state pension, by the way.

I can't help thinking that organisations like Age UK are actually contributing to this by promoting the fact that their services start with people who are 55. (I've still no idea why.) If you say something long enough, everyone will believe it. And if you used to be called 'Help the Aged' and you help 55-year-olds... well, it's pretty obvious what the message is.

I know I've been lucky so far. Since I got made redundant two years ago, I've managed to make a living. But I've had knock-backs too. Stupid knock-backs, with no reason to them. So I've no idea how long the luck will last. And I've got nothing to fall back on: like many others, I can't afford a gentle transition towards retirement. Or retirement, come to that.

I don't know whether to be terrified, or just angry. I think I'll stick with angry. Who's with me?

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