Over-50s are more likely to fall victim to age discrimination as much as the lack of job vacancies, making them prone to longer spells out of work
Marcia Bennett has just changed her email address. Like many people, she had been using her birth year with her name. Now she has removed the 63.
The 50-year old has been looking for work for two years and does not want prospective employers working out her age. “Every job I am applying for, it is just not happening,” she says. “I have only had five interviews in a year. I do 10 to 15 applications a week.”
Bennett is one of more than 400,000 people over 50 in the UK who is registered as unemployed, according to the latest official jobs data released yesterday. It is a smaller number than the nearly 1 million young people out of work. But over-50s are more likely than any other demographic to be long-term unemployed.
After two years of either not hearing back, being told by employers their roles are too “junior” for her, or being offered salaries that would barely cover her travel costs, Bennett has had enough.
Now she is sitting in a room at the British Library surrounded by other people in a similar position. They are all here to learn how to set up on their own.
She explains to the room her vision for a haberdasher’s that also offers bespoke outfits and sewing lessons. The dream builds on Bennett’s training at the London College of Fashion, work at fashion houses and a passion for making her own clothes. “I started sewing when I was 11 … and I thought, why am I wasting my time, I might as well turn a hobby into a business,” she says.
The other 11 women and two men around the table have a range of business ideas including nutritional therapist, life coaching, cushion-making and selling miniature models of mountains made on a 3D printer. Jeannie Satchell, their trainer, is encouraging people to think through where they want to be in five years’ time. At the end of three days’ teaching and homework assignments the would-be entrepreneurs have to pitch her a detailed business plan.
Satchell is brimming with enthusiasm about where self-employment can take them. “On day one everybody feels a little bit like a fish out of water and by day three the atmosphere is amazing.”
The course is one of many run around the country by the Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise (Prime), a charity set up by Prince Charles in response to letters he was receiving from people looking for work but struggling to find anyone to take them on because of their age.
The charity has given free training and mentoring to more than 25,000 over-50s who are unemployed or facing redundancy since it launched in 1999. Despite signs of the recovery gathering pace and the jobs market picking up, demand this year has been as high as ever, says Prime’s chief executive, Alastair Clegg. “There is a huge issue with over-50s unemployment. This is a hidden problem because of the correct focus on the under 25s … it would be helpful that as a country we understand that over-50s unemployment also causes family breakdown and real financial hardship and deprivation.”
Behind the improving jobs figures there are signs that the market remains tough for many. There are a record 1.46m people underemployed – those working part-time because they cannot find a full-time job. The figure is the highest since records began in 1992.
The unemployment rate for over-50s is relatively low, at 4.4% – it is almost one in five – 19.1% – for young people. But almost half of unemployed people over 50 have been out of work for a year or more, a higher proportion of long-term unemployed than for any other group. For all ages of unemployed people the proportion of long-term joblessness is 36.1%.
Labour market expert John Philpott, director of The Jobs Economist research consultancy, says the problem is a lack of vacancies and “a degree of implicit discrimination”.
“For the older person, if you have lost your job you are in a worse position than than other age groups.”
He paints a bleak outlook for older jobseekers. “Probably, over the course of the next year we will see more job opportunities, but that will tend to benefit young over older workers as age discrimination continues to kick in,” he said.
Prime and other charities say that oOne challenge for older jobseekers is confidence. “Clients have said the self-confidence disappears almost as quickly as the redundancy payment,” said Clegg.
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