The Over 50 Scrap Heap Challenge?

Old Man - I'm not 'old' just more experienced

Popular perception suggests that, despite being contrary to most employment legislation, Ageism is alive and well and still thriving within many UK employers.

But is that perception factual or, as many HR professionals sifting applications from the over 50s job hunters would claim; simply a convenient excuse for lack lustre personal performance when seeking employment?

Any personal perceptions aside, the issues here will be tainted by your own age but, as AgeUK point out, many more people are working until far later in their life. Some may be seeking work for simple lifestyle reasons however; many others are actually obliged to seek work because of financial reasons. Whatever the reason behind older people seeking work, it remains an escalating factor of life in our ageing society.

Up!In a partly frivolous but wholly indicative example of the ageist issues; back in 2009 the Disney cartoon ‘Up‘ was given the thumbs down by investors. Apparently they were saying it was “considered commercially unattractive” but why? Simply because the main character was an ‘old’ man.

This type of attitude abounds within the workplace, especially where the ‘movers and shakers’ (aka ‘decision makers’) are substantially younger than fifty. The young always know more (and better) than their elders…don’t they?

Ageism is discrimination or unfair treatment based on a person’s age. It can impact on someone’s confidence, job prospects, financial situation and quality of life…(

My wife and I have both experienced the difficulties and impacts of being 50+ job hunters. Redundancy necessitated her search for work at the ‘critical age’ refered to. Mine was due to a length of service and age related retirement from the police.

Ageism_Traffic_LightsOur free-fall into the traffic-jam of job searching hasn’t been without a good deal of pain and frustration, it also couldn’t have come at a worse time. A period when all the prominent employers in this area are public sector organisation making cuts. Employers like the NHS, Local Authorities and Councils, Emergency Services and Govt. Agencies. They are all struggling to comply with austerity measures and cutting back.

Add to this the difficulties of adapting thirty years of policing experiences and training to ‘civvy’ street, often without any formal/acceptable documentary ‘evidence’ or ‘qualifications’ and you have problems. There is much that can be applied to any ‘normal’ job however, trying to get prospective employers to understand that is often another contributory factor to your car crash of over fifty unemployment. And all before you even worry about trying to manage the age issues.

In a way I’m lucky,  I only ‘need’ part-time work to boost my modest pension income and to get by. My wife on the other hand would ‘like’ something a little more substantial in terms of income. We’ve been obliged to scale back our desires around the income we need/would like. Now we work towards simply preventing our standard of living from falling any further than it has already. Trying to carry on with life, with a reasonable level of comfort and the odd luxury, after your household income has reduced to one-third of what it was is no easy task.

Apart from having little or no interest in the ethos of getting a job at any cost, we also have no desire to relocate or commute excessive distances each day. Our lack of success during a period of ‘enforced’ career change has been worrying and stressful, for both of us. But we know we’re not alone in this predicament, many other families are suffering reduced incomes, higher costs and many cash-strapped older women are forced back to work. Even though my wife wasn’t forced ‘back’ per se, she’d never actually been away from the workplace, until now.

No women over 50 allowed (unless it’s Helen Mirren): …a generation of women is being bundled out of jobs at an alarming rate, dumped into low-paid, part-time slots. Since 2010 there has been a 30% increase in unemployment among women in their 50s, compared to a general increase of 5%…(The Guardian)

The TUC say, “more than three-quarters of the rise in female employment, which hit record levels last December, is the result of women aged over 50 taking on jobs.”

A report by the TUC to be released this week has established that 2,278,000 more women are now working than in 1992, and that 1,645,000 (72%) of these are aged 50 or over…(

Most people know that if an employer turns you down for a job because you are too old (or too young), this is ageist and is actually unlawful, but it happens and unfortunately, it looks like it’s all set to get far worse in te future.

MILLIONS more women will be forced back to work because their pensions will not be enough to live on, says a damning new report…(

Working in a pub I hear the content of many differing conversations, from a broad range of people. Some of the comments I’ve overheard recently tend to support my assumptions on ageism.

  • “We just throw the ‘oldies’ applications in the bin” (Retail Manager)
  • “They [‘Old buggers’] are no good to me, they’re past it” (Local Building Contractor)
  • “We tend to ‘lose’ most of the older ones at the paper sift” (HR staff NHS)
  • “Older people usually want more than minimum wage so we don’t take them on” (Status/Sector Unknown)
  • “You can make the selection process documentation ‘fit’ the job description if you like the person” (Local Authority HR staff)
  • “I just marked my score sheet up to fit the one I liked, he was lush” (Interview Board Member – Sector Unknown)
  • “Why would anyone over forty want to be working, if they haven’t made it by then they don’t deserve a bloody job” (Status/Sector Unknown)
  • “Why would someone like you [me] want a job anyway? You’ve got a massive f—ing pension! Just stops us getting them [jobs]” (Unemployed Council Worker)

I suspect the latter comment was mostly ‘sour grapes’ but still indicative of my assumption. All anecdotal some would say, not so say I. But even if I introduced you to the originator of each and every comment, most would probably have denied ever having spoken those words. Despite what politicians, recruitment agencies and anyone else involved in human resource management would have you believe – Ageism is still rife in the workplace.

Our anti-discrimination laws are designed to protect you when you apply for a job (as well as while you’re working) however; Ageism during any recruitment process can be extremely difficult to prove. Obviously an employer isn’t going to advertise the fact they’re ageist. They’re also unlikely to make their reasons for not employing someone, due to their age, common knowledge. Are they?

It’s worth noting that if you think a prospective employer has discriminated against you, because of your age (or any other discriminatory factor for that matter), you can get help from the Home Office website. There is a questionnaire that will help you to gather evidence of your complaint, should you decide to bring a claim against that prospective employer. A useful resource but, like the legislation, not one that I would have a great deal of confidence in.

The problem with any equality legislation, like others designed to prevent discrimination and/or promote diversity is, they are often little more than politically based platitudes. The appeasement of public angst that will (hopefully) improve or increase party political popularity at the time of enactment.

Say NO To Ageism!The Say NO To Ageism campaign which ran in the Irish Republic was (probably) a prime example (and victim) of this political thought process. Great whilst these noble efforts are current and happen to be political  ‘flavour-of-the-month’ but, as soon as the heat dies down, they swiftly fall into obscurity. The last Say No To Ageism Week ran from the 4th to the 8th June…2012. From that are we to assume that Ageism is no longer a problem, at least in the Republic of Ireland?

These laws and campaigns don’t change attitudes, they just dictate that people will adjust their attitudes, at least within any public forum. They also ensure that those who hold these views are very careful to cover their tracks, with appropriate but imaginative paper trails.

So sorry to be the Harbinger Of Doom and rain on your job parade however; it is insufficient to place your trust in the benefits of equality legislation alone. If you’re over fifty and searching for work you will have to work far harder than you should really have to. And, if you read employment news and forecasts for the future, it’s going to get much worse. Doing anything less than hard-selling yourself  in the current job market is tantamount to employment suicide.

Far better that you work from the premiss; no matter how good you are, or how you actually go about securing your new job, ageism during the selection process IS rife… Understand that and you might not be quiet so upset about all the rejections you’re going to get.

Good Luck!