Last week TAEN published the latest edition of its 50+ Job Seekers Survey. In some ways the results are predictable – surveys so often tell us things that we already know by instinct – but there are surprising insights too.
ONS figures show more older people in work and there is a general feeling that older people are doing reasonably well in the labour market.
The sad fact is however, that deeply embedded structural disadvantages and ingrained ageist attitudes bar hundreds of thousands of older people from returning to work. It is clear that older job seekers struggle harder than most.
Overwhelmingly they want to work because of financial need, a desire to feel valued and the social interaction work brings. Many are ‘worried’ or ‘desperate’ about not working.
They identify adverse attitudes by recruiters, mismatches of their own skills or qualifications with employers’ needs and the national focus on youth unemployment as being among the reasons for their problems.
These barriers to older job seekers continue more than six years after age discrimination was outlawed by the 2006 Age Regulations and two years after the end of the Default Retirement Age, allowing people to be forcibly retired at 65.
Today, despite these reforming legal changes, the challenge of ending age discrimination is as relevant as ever. Only one in ten over 50s looking for work think age discrimination law had helped them.
47 per cent of our older job seekers believed that the law had not had any benefit at all. One respondent, a former managing director seeking work, commented, “Age discrimination is rife in my view. Employers can work out your age with ease.”
Some respondents even volunteered the view that repeal of the DRA had made it harder to get work!
These findings cast an interesting perspective on seminar I attended in Rome to talk to Italian HR mangers about the global phenomenon of population ageing and its implications for employers.
Italian businesses are seriously worried, as are their Governments – when they manage to get them in place. (The wrangling over coalition alliances following the recent inclusive elections continues). The proportion of the Italian population over 65 has doubled since 1950 and will continue to grow, reaching 33 per cent of the total population by 2050. The average number of children born to Italian women is 1.41 – well short of replacement levels. So leaving aside massive immigration, the Italian labour force is shrinking.
Shrinking and ageing at the same time. Logic says that working up to existing pension ages would be a start. As long ago as 2001 the Stockholm meeting of the European Council of Ministers set a target of 50% for employment rates of people in the 55-64 age range across Europe. In Italy only 36.6 % of the older workforce is in employment.
Over the past decades across Europe, millions of older workers have been eased out of their jobs as one round of industrial restructuring follows another. The early quitting culture has stuck and become an expectation. Now like so many mucky pigeons coming home to roost, the problem appears as an unwelcome threat to economies that simply won’t have the people to do the jobs their businesses need in future.
Hence, on one hand, we have in countries with the most acute demographic threats, emerging concern to find ways of making it possible for people to work longer. At the same time, bizarrely, we have massive age discrimination at the point of hiring.
I couldn’t resist reflecting with my Italian audience on the homily of Nero fiddling whilst the fires raged outside!
Here in the UK, how do we respond to our respondents who claimed their problems could be explained by employers being charier about hiring people who want to work longer, now the DRA has been removed?
Perhaps they are right.
We have a labour market that is ambivalent in its attitudes to older people. Employers will allow them to work longer in the same jobs if they wish but they bottle out of offering them new jobs, believing they may want to work for ever.
People are working longer in part because they can choose to remain in work longer but the lot of the older person who has left a job is problematic.
He or she is likely to fall outside the person specification offered by employers to recruitment agencies, simply on grounds of age. And there is significant evidence that some recruitment agencies connive and fail to challenge ageist attitudes.
It seems clear that the law is being flouted with impunity and there is a presumption that, ‘of course employers will discriminate by age if they wish to so.’ The eradication of age discrimination in employment is a far from complete.
The time has surely come to assess the effectiveness of the law against age discrimination in recruitment. One speaker on Thursday spoke of employers and politicians ignoring a demographic tsunami in Italy, but it is not only the Romans who emulate the feats of Nero.
I was in Roubaix, Northern France, discussing attitudes to work and retirement on both sides of the Channel when the Pope announced his decision to step down. It was interesting to see reactions in this once Catholic country to the news of his holiness’s decision to retire.
The typical response in an (admittedly unrepresentative) sample in my impromptu on the spot survey was a Gallic shrug of “Naturellement, tout le monde a le droit de racrocher” – everyone has the right to hang up his boots.
This contrasts somewhat with French expressions of wonder that so many people in Britain are deciding to work beyond conventional retirement ages – though in most cases retiring well below the Pope’s 86 years.
The French, relying on exaggerated media reports of older people still at work in their 80s and 90s, assume we are literally toiling away till we drop.
Lies, damned lies and misunderstandings are often at the root of such problems.
One example is seen in the thoughts of Michael Saunders, a Citi Bank economist writing in the Daily Mail recently, “Grey power (is) winning the battle…over young people”
“The ageing of the population and workforce is inevitable and reinforces the likelihood that the UK will have sluggish growth in domestic demand, productivity and real pay.”
Let’s suppose for a moment that an older population actually will lead to slower growth, how does it help to worry about it?
The best policy is surely to try to keep people in work longer. Talking down the utility of the older worker to prospective employers really could have an impact on national output.
Better an older person in a job than out of work altogether (and totally unproductive in economic terms.)
In any case, while some studies on age and productivity do indeed some show productivity negatively correlated with age, by no means all of them do so.
I have seen and heard of plenty of examples where the knowledge and experience of older workers is recognised as being of great value.
If we want to measure output we should be wary of the controlling variables such as levels of training which workers in respective age groups receive, the extent to which companies make use of ICT or interventions used to maintain working capacity.
BT undertook an experiment some years ago, in which they measured outputs of different age cohorts and found younger workers in skilled roles to be more productive.
When they retested participants enjoying a common level of recent skills training, the differences disappeared.
When comparing outputs of younger and older workers one should take other things into account, such as an element of deliberate downsizing of roles, reduction of hours and so on which older workers sensibly often opt for but which may reduce productivity.
As for the assertion that, older workers have been effectively stealing the jobs of the young, this too flies in the face the facts.
I call in aid the most authoritative international study of the implications of demographic change on working life. The OECD’s Live Longer; Work Longer debunks the idea of age cohorts being in competition for a fixed number of jobs.
If we really could help younger workers by asking older employees to move out of the way, it might pose a moral dilemma of whether to work or not to work. But we can’t and it doesn’t!
Keeping people of all ages in work boosts aggregate demand, contributes to taxation and is more likely to lead to job creation than the reverse. The fixed “lump” of labour notion is, according to most observers, fallacious. Hence they dub it, “the lump of labour fallacy.”
Which brings me on to the real story about the numbers of jobs “created” since 2008. Yes, “93 per cent of the increase in the past ten years has been among over 50s – a rise of 1.5 million people – 22 per cent.” But likening the over 50s to greedy kids devouring more than their share of the treat is wide of the mark.
Figures last week from the Office of National Statistics show that between 2008 and 2012 the number of “main job” self-employed workers rose by 367,000. 84 per cent of this increase was for those aged 50 and above. As people get older they are much more likely to be self-employed. (Just 5% of young people are self-employed, compared with 37% of those aged 65 or over.)
Moreover, a phenomenal 60 per cent of this increase in self-employment took place between 2011 and 2012. So you could argue that older people, by their ingenuity and enterprise, are a key factor in whatever buoyancy there is in the economy.
The Pope’s retirement won’t save or create a single job for a younger person of course – which does not mean that he should not move aside if it suits him to do so. Unlike the rest of us however, occupancy of his office for a few more years would never have raised concerns about productivity in the first place. Somehow, I doubt that he will join the ranks of the self employed however!
Setting aside occasional sporting metaphors of my more whimsical blogs, it is rare that serious discussion of age discrimination appears in sports pages and broadcasts.
However, news of John McCririck’s £3 million claim for age discrimination has drawn as much attention as any Derby day favourite hitting the front coming out of Tattenham Corner.
While it is not part of TAEN’s brief to discourage people from using the employment tribunals in age cases, one might occasionally wonder why they bother. It is all too easy to spend time, energy and a small fortune pursuing lost causes.
The tribunals seem to offer a fitting alternative to the gamblers’ last chance saloon. Read More…
LORD Bichard a crossbench peer who retired at the age of 53 and is currently in receipt of a £120,000 a year civil service pension, has come up with some bright suggestions which would ‘encourage’ older people to do ‘voluntary work’ for their pensions.
Bichard’s comments at the committee investigating the impact of demographic changes on the public sector merit reading.
‘Are there ways in which we could use incentives to encourage older people, if not to be in full time work, to be making a contribution?’ he asks. Apparently, Lord Bichard is in favour of using pensions to ‘incentivise’ retired people to be useful members of society, as he sees it.
This, in my respectful view, is one of the barmiest ideas to have been presented to a parliamentary committee for a long time. It betrays seriously worrying attitudes about older people and their value to society. Read More…
Chris Ball wrote for the Unions21 publication: The Generation Game, Does Age Matter?
At some point during the Conservative conference, the issue of working longer before retirement may come up. (How could it not with George Osborne deciding that £10 billion of additional welfare cuts will have to be found?)
There are several reasons to doubt that it would be easy to deal with the debt crisis by pushing up state pension age more quickly however. Yet, as this approach is being followed in several other European countries we should be ready for it. One argument which will be used will be the increasing ageing of society.
Sadly, at present the naïve idea that demographic change means we can automatically look forward to years of working longer is going largely unchallenged. Demographic change alone cannot possibly determine our ability to work.
Today’s news reports suggest that the burden of further cuts will fall on the working age poor and on the face of it – the young. The Guardian says that first targets are likely to include housing benefits for the under 25s and removing extra benefits from claimant parents who have an additional child.