By Leon A Smith
April 14, 2011
A recent Panorama programme focussed on the difficulties and challenges which those in the 50-plus age group are now faced with in getting jobs. The underlying theme running through this programme was that ageism is alive and well and permeating itself through many parts of society. Illustrations were given of numerous people in the 50-plus bracket applying for countless jobs, only to find that they were given no job interviews and in the rare cases where they were given job interviews, they were unsuccessful. What does this tell us about societal attitudes to aging and, indeed, exactly what is old age? Surely, in an era when life expectancy is now well into its 80’s, 50 can hardly be considered to be old age!
Yet it seems to many employers once someone has reached the age of 50 they are either “past their sell by date” or at least on the slippery slope to the aging process. On the other hand, we are faced with an ever increasing number of stories regarding the difficulties that younger people are having in finding employment, to the extent that youth unemployment has never been higher. Assuming that the definition of “youth” might be below 25, then the optimum age for employment must lie somewhere between 25-50. This is a very narrow band width.
Perhaps today’s phenomenon is heightened due to the fact that more people choose to move from employer to employer than may have been the case generations ago. It is rare today for somebody to come into employment at the end of full time study and remain their throughout their working career. People do move from job to job to seek more experience and variety. Many people today not only like to have different jobs throughout their life but indeed different careers – and hopping from one career to another has certainly become more common.
Yet at the same time, the state retirement age is to be increased from 65 to 66 and in due course to 67. One wonders what the anticipated retirement age might be for a child born today? Perhaps 69 or 70?
Many people sometimes through lack of foresight or sometimes through no fault of their own find themselves in their latter years dependent on their State pension and would therefore have a need to work and to be earning income to a much greater age. This will merely serve to exacerbate the problem, creating even more in that 50-plus age group facing the frustrations of finding employment.
The Default Retirement Age has recently been abolished following on from European Legislation. This will make it more difficult for an employer to dispense with somebody’s services at the age of 60 or 65 – merely because they have attained that age. They may now carry on working beyond those ages as long as they are able to demonstrate that they are still able to fulfil their contractual obligations in the role in which they are performing.
This anti-ageism legislation is to be applauded; however what will this do to youth employment at the other end of the scale? With more and more people continuing to work into their 60’s, this will ultimately preclude people coming into employment at a younger age.
One can see the dichotomy here but solutions are less evident. People want jobs – both because they need the income to live on and to ensure that their own feelings of purpose and self worth are met. However, jobs cannot be created out of thin air.
I raise here lots of issues and lots of problems but I regret that I am unable to offer any solutions. Suffice to say, however, that the problem of increased life expectancy/longevity is not something which has suddenly crept up on us overnight – this is something which has been gradually increasing over many many years. Improvements in medicine, new drugs, the awareness of the importance of healthy living, etc, etc – yet society is faced today with severe pressures on jobs at either end of the scale.
How are more jobs to be created? We do not want to create schemes for people digging holes in the road only to be filled in again! And we do not want jobs created just for the sake of creating jobs. Indeed, isn’t the public sector currently paying the price for this with the cuts which are taking place in local authorities. In the same way that the physical infrastructure in the UK has suffered through lack of investment over decades (roads, railways, waterways etc), it would seem that we are also experiencing under-investment in the jobs market. Surely this is what government needs to be focussing on. For somebody who is unemployed and facing further years of unemployment a referendum on AV would hardly seem to be the greatest priority, nor would a war in Afganistan or Libya, or dare I say even a Royal Wedding will offer little by way of escapism.
The whole question of unemployment needs to rise swiftly to the top of our political agenda before the situation deteriorates further. The window of employment opportunity for 25-50’s if nothing is done will narrow even further – the potential consequences are disturbing!