There’s a lesser-spotted breed of worker; a type you don’t often see. It’s the female employee who’s in her fifties (or older). I’ve worked in various companies where the age range of my colleagues stops at late 40s, save for a couple of exceptions. Where do all the older people go, I wondered? They must be earning money somewhere, somehow. Nope, not according to the latest unemployment stats. The number of unemployed women over 50 has risen from 111,000 in the three months before the Coalition was formed in 2010 to 161,000 – a 45 per cent jump.
I’m not in my fifties yet, and you might not be either, but that’s no reason not to be concerned. We need assurance that we’ll be able to carry on working fruitfully well past middle-age. Our life spans have increased just as our pension pots have decreased so any government in power now will want us working until we drop. If the opportunities aren’t there for us to work and the average pension won’t even buy you a bag of Werther’s Originals, how are we supposed to live?
Whilst this problem affects both genders, it’s women who are acutely affected. The stats suggest that what jobs there are for over-fifties go to men. Are employers afraid to hire older women for some weird reason? You get good and bad employees in both flavours. Gender tells you nothing about aptitude. I’ve worked with some absolutely useless men in their fifties. One was so notoriously appalling at his job that I wondered how he put his own socks on in the morning. Somewhere, a fantastic woman who could have done his job with her eyes shut was sitting at home, completing her hundredth job application and wondering if she was ever going to get a break.
Both men and women, if they have the right skills, personality and experience, can contribute beautifully in the workplace. I abhor tokenism but if the alternative is insidious discrimination, the Government needs to take action. Mature workers, when they’re right for the job, can bring real experience, insight and skills to the workplace. Employers – drop the ageism, drop the sexism, and focus on getting in good people who deserve a chance. And not just because I don’t fancy claiming the dole for the last 30 years of my life.