'Lost generation'of older workers is stuck on the dole

Half the jobless over-50s have been out of work for 12 months or more, new study finds
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The Independent Online

They are the other Lost Generation: while anxiety about the impact of joblessness in the UK has focused on the youngest people in the workforce, those at the other end of the age spectrum are suffering even more.

The latest figures show that the number who have been unemployed for over a year is at its highest since 1997, but it is among the over-50s that the increase has been steepest.

An analysis for the first three months of this year has revealed that nearly half of all unemployed over-50s have been out of work for more than a year, compared with less than a third only two years ago. The study, published by the IPPR think tank today, shows that, among unemployed 18- to 24-year-olds, only 27 per cent have been jobless for a year or more.

The figures underline strong warnings from pressure groups that older workers are being discriminated against and effectively squeezed out of the jobs market. Age UK says that a combination of resistance from employers and a lack of support from the Government has made the over-50s the most expendable in the workforce.

"Unemployment can be devastating for older workers," said Michelle Mitchell, charity director at Age UK. "People can be pushed towards early retirement, often with inadequate pension provision, leaving them more dependent on the state and unable to contribute to the economy.

"If the Government wants to achieve its aim of extending working lives, it must make tackling long-term unemployment a priority and provide the help and support necessary to enable these people to return to the workplace as soon as possible."

Earlier this year, business leaders warned in The Independent on Sunday that, without urgent action to help them into work, training or education, a generation of youngsters would be lost. They demanded concessions, including tax breaks for companies taking young people off the dole. But analysts have now turned their attention to the underlying problem of long-term unemployment, particularly among older people.

The IPPR found that, after significant falls in the late 1990s and 2000s, the rate of long-term unemployment began to rise steeply again from the start of 2009. Men out of work for more than a year rose from 338,000 at the start of 2009 to 568,000 this year; for women, the number increased from 169,000 to 282,000.

Nick Pearce, the director of IPPR, said: "Headline figures suggest unemployment levels are stable, but these mask underlying trends. Many people are experiencing long spells of unemployment. Being out of work for more than a year can have a scarring affect, making it harder to get a job as well as having a negative impact on health and wellbeing."

A separate study found that many older workers complained about ageism in recruitment. A survey by the Age and Employment Network found 63 per cent of older jobseekers believed employers saw them as "too old", and 42 per cent felt they were seen as too experienced or over-qualified, and therefore more expensive to hire. The obstacles highlighted by benefits claimants over 50 included increased health problems as they got older, and their lack of experience with new technology.

Sean O'Connor, a former IT commercial contracts manager, told the survey he had been "unceremoniously dumped" just after his 65th birthday. "We are told there is a real need to finance an ever-growing retirement-aged population," he said, "so why is it not discriminatory to force people to retire before they are ready?"

Case Study: Michael Thompson, 59

Qualified teacher. Struggled to get back into the job market after a career in education, cultural diplomacy, communications, project management and IT

"There seems to be an assumption by employers that anyone over 50 has no energy, commitment or creative flair. They are very much mistaken.

"I was substantially pushed into having to run my own business, basically because the market wasn't open to my age in terms of employability in full-time, permanent posts.

"This has been going on for 15 years. You find as the years pass that is becomes much more difficult to find a position, particularly with the sorts of skills I have. If you are over 35 the chances of getting a job with a technology company are pretty low; if you are 59, you are off the radar.

"You have to sustain your own self-esteem over a long period of time, which is very difficult. It's been suggested to me that I should go and knock on B&Q's door, as that would at least bring some money in.

"I have the same imagination and strength of ideas as always. I am looking at another 15 years of work at least. I have a lot more to offer."