The truth about the over-50s

Is there really, as reports suggest, a forgotten army of over-50s, crying out for work? The reality is rather more complicated



The headline screamed out from the front page of this newspaper and The Independent: “The forgotten army of over-50s women, whose unemployment has jumped by 45% since 2010”. It was a statistic to startle even the most casual of reader, let alone one like myself who has only this past week joined a start-up aimed at building the world’s largest 50+ community.

Of course, as ever with statistics, they can be fought over, reinterpreted and presented again with a different message. The DWP claims that more women aged 50-64 than ever are actually in work, and that the percentage out of work has actually fallen by five per cent since 2010.

Reality, it appears, is more complex than the statistics would suggest, but there are some self-evident truths. The first is that the sustained programme of cuts that have affected the public sector have an inordinate knock-on effect on the female employment rate because so many more women proportionately are employed in the public sector.

The second is that such growth as there has been in the private sector has benefited men more than women. The third, which is a new phenomenon particular to our age, is that there is a marked return – or attempted return - to the workforce of older women as the female retirement age rises from 60 to 65 in line with men.

Less well explored is the knock-on effect of wage stagnation. As wages have failed to keep pace with inflation over the past few years, there has been even greater pressure on household budgets, forcing more women aged 50+ to contemplate a return to work.

The picture doesn’t end there of course. Yesterday, the Foreign Office became the latest of many employers to be shamed by the news that it pays its senior women diplomats and other staff 10 per cent less than it does men. Add in the percentage of women on zero hours contracts and the statistics clearly belie the thousands of individual struggles behind them.

This issue generated a good deal of anger among my new network of colleagues: partly, it was the image of an elderly woman used to represent 50+, and in part, it was the frustration that many feel because actually, they say, most have never been busier or worked harder.

Actually, I don’t think this is a male-female issue, particularly. There is no greater security among 50+ men in the workplace than women. Yes, the stats don’t lie about the continuing relative disparity regarding remuneration, but nor do they yet fully reflect the continuing swingeing cutbacks to the waves of middle managers across so many industries, either already announced or recently proposed - Barclays being the latest this week to reveal thousands of coming lay-offs.

What’s more, value is not just about a financial measure but an emotional one too. Meaningful work, when it is sought and found, greatly improves people’s sense of self-worth, and for 50+ women, in particular, goes a long way towards mitigating against the true, universal complaint of that age-group: sudden, destabilising invisibility. But that’s a whole other column.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB Developer (VB, VB.Net, VB Developer, VB.Net Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: VB Developer (VB, VB.Net, VB Deve...

Front-End Developer C#, MVC, HTML5, CSS3

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A firm focused in building Insura...

C# Software Engineer (ASP.NET, C#, CSS, Java Script, JQuery)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits, Training & Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# S...

C# Swift Developer (ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.NET, Swift)

£55000 - £65000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A Global Financial Service Organi...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Next they'll say an independent Scotland can't use British clouds...

Mark Steel

Once I would have agreed with Dawkins. Then my daughter was born with Down's Syndrome

Jamie McCullum
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home