As we’ve heard frequently over the past year, the jobs market has been badly affected by the pandemic, leading to a large number of people – including many older workers – finding themselves out of work. The over-60s have been particularly affected, with many looking for work at a time when they thought they had a job for life and were planning their retirement.
Christopher Brooks, Age UK's Head of Policy recently sat down with the Employment Minister, Mims Davies MP, to talk about how the Government has responded to the pandemic and is supporting older workers stay in and get back into work.
What measures has the Government taken to help older workers during the pandemic?
Mims Davies MP: “It’s important to focus on helping older workers, refreshing what we do to support people who may be looking for work, remembering of course they may not have come into contact with the DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] or the benefits system for a very long time. We’ve got our 50PLUS Choices, which is a range of interventions to support people going through unemployment.”
“We’ve got 50PLUS Champions in our Jobcentres, focussed on the opportunities for older workers, and helping over 50s to boost their confidence and recognise how they can transfer their skills into new sectors.”
“We’re piloting mentoring circles for older workers to give people the opportunity to share their experiences, find out what the barriers are, and try and give them the support they need.”
“We’ve also got several other programmes such as Job Entry Targeted Support (JETS) and the Job Finding Scheme (JFS), which will be particularly helpful for those over 50s who are looking for work for the first time.”
“Restart is a £3bn programme that will help almost a million people get back into work, working with providers to link into local labour markets, helping those who have been out of work for longer. We also have the Sector-based Work Academy Programme, which is for all ages and is a six-week placement with a guaranteed interview, but I’ve seen over 50s move into new professions like teaching and construction through this.”
We’ve seen several thousand new Work Coaches hired in Jobcentres, can you tell us how they’re helping older jobseekers overcome age discrimination?
“What’s really good is that many of the new Work Coaches are moving into new roles, so have been going through exactly this process themselves. If anyone hasn’t been in a Jobcentre for a long time it will be completely different, and if you’re not sure where to start there’s a benefit calculator online and a website called Job Help.”
“The Work Coaches can identify those barriers, like digital skills, being able to travel, or moving into self-employment. They all have the training to work individually with claimants about what’s right for them. We have our 50PLUS Champions who are dedicated to helping the over 50s, including linking in with employers to make sure they’re not missing out on talent. The Flexible Support Fund can help with a range of problems that people face with training or other barriers to work.”
“There’s a danger that older workers feel they need to get out of the way for younger workers – we don’t want that. This can be one of the most fulfilling times of your career and where you can choose what path to pursue, and we want to make sure that people are able to use their talents.”
We hear a lot about older workers who’ve experienced ageism, particularly in recruitment. What do you think can be done to tackle this?
“Discrimination in the workplace, for any reason, is completely unacceptable. We have an older workers’ champion in Andy Briggs [CEO of Phoenix Group], and he’s working to challenge businesses to make sure they’ve got a diverse workforce and are not overlooking talent. 50PLUS Choices is helping employers be more open minded – being able to retain older workers and retraining.”
We hear from lots of carers struggling to balance their responsibilities with work, and our own analysis has shown as little as 5-10 hours a week can make it difficult to keep working. What are you doing to help carers?
“Informal family carers are absolutely crucial. I’ve had experience of sandwich caring with young children and elderly relatives and it’s really difficult and I’ve total sympathy. We’ve achieved a lot through the pandemic to be more inclusive at work that helps people caring at any age. There’s a great opportunity to be inclusive through virtual means – for example not making people travel in for the sake of it.”
“You need to be able to flex your working life around that – you want to be there for that loved one, which I was able to do and is something I’ve never regretted. BEIS are looking at Carers Leave, and I’d say to all employers that by not having everyone in the office, you get really committed workers if you listen and understand what’s going on in their lives they’ll give back in spades. There’s a great opportunity here to be more inclusive and the Government will continue to support our carers.”
“I gave up a job when I had to help look after my dad, I didn’t look out for my own career. I wouldn’t change [that], but I’d like other people to have choices. It’s a great opportunity to give people that longer career.”
Would something similar to the Kickstart scheme, which gives a wage subsidy to encourage employers to take on under-25s, help older workers?
“This has been raised, along with Restart and JETS. it’s part of the Plan for Jobs, which is a multi-billion pound programme, and we’re looking at what happens and what’s right going forwards.We’re looking to make sure everyone benefits from the recovery.”
The Restart Scheme is similar to the Work Programme, which was flawed partly because providers weren’t incentivised to help 50+ participants, so how will this work better?
“We’ve learned from the Future Jobs fund when designing these new schemes. I can’t say too much at the moment because we’re just finalising how the Restart scheme looks, but we’re very keen to learn the lessons and linking with local communities to make sure it works in every area. We’ve done lots of engagement with local charities and had lots of good feedback, and are hoping to launch it in June. Restart is designed in particular to help the long-term unemployed, which is good as we know that very often it’s older workers who fall into this trap. We’re determined to make it work for everyone no matter what your age or postcode.”
Access to cash during and after lockdown
The coronavirus pandemic has led to a great deal of changes, including to the ways in which older people are able to access cash. Joel Lewis, Policy Manager at Age UK, looks at these new services, while emphasising the importance of them continuing in the future.