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Everyday Ageism

LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Mon 27-Oct-14 11:27:44

Why over 50s NEED to work too #everydayageism

Helen Walmsley-Johnson is an accomplished writer and personal assistant with many years of experience. A woman at the top of her professional game - and a woman over the age of fifty. So why is it that, after hundreds of job applications, she remains unemployed? We hear from The Guardian's Invisible Woman on why older women desperately need to be taken seriously as job hunters.

Helen Walmsley-Johnson

Why over 50s NEED to work too

Posted on: Mon 27-Oct-14 11:27:44


Lead photo

Why over 50s NEED to be part of the work force.

Another week, another report. This time it's the catchy acronym PRIME (the Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise) pointing out the bleeding obvious - that there are "a significant number of over 50s who would be willing to work if the right opportunity arose" but that we are "failing to harness their potential". I'd say never mind "willing to work" what about "need to work", because that's the truth of it. We need to work and it's not about being able to afford a National Trust membership or a scented candle from time to time, it's about whether you pay the gas bill or buy some food, whether you pay the rent or the water rates.

This is the umpteenth such report in about 18 months. We've had the TUC's Age Immaterial, the Commission on Older Women Interim Report, UNISON's Sandwich Generation and the DCMS's Maximising women's contribution to future economic growth. Then there's The Fawcett Society's The Changing Labour Market 2 (follow up to The Changing Labour Market 1) and Saga's The Saga Generations, not to mention the appointment of Dr Ros Altmann as the UK Government's Older Workers Business Champion. There are reams and reams of it - and I've read it all, every last word and full stop. None of this (no doubt) expensive research will help anyone unless it is translated into action.

My own story is fairly typical. I took voluntary redundancy two years ago (at 57) to develop the next stage of my career and to spend time with my 87-year-old father who was dying from lung cancer. I stepped down with a redundancy payment, a literary agent and a weekly fashion column - a good set of circumstances, I thought, for supporting myself with writing in later life. I do know that I will need to support myself - no one at my level of working has a pension pot worth a damn, I don't own property, I have no assets - except my skills and experience. My intention was to work part-time or temp to support my writing but this unexpectedly turned out to be the flaw in my plan. Although I was at the top of my profession as a personal assistant it appeared that I was unemployable. I registered with four agencies, one of whom knew me well and had worked with me when I was hiring. In two years I have had two interviews. It seems I have unintentionally retired.

When the final demands start to come you ignore them while you can because you still have a tiny bat squeak of hope that surely something will turn up. You keep scanning the sits vac and sending off applications (over 500 in my case). Then you miss your rent payment and the threat of eviction starts to loom.

Let me tell you what happens to a single woman over 50 in this situation. The first struggle is with your self-esteem when you realise that, although you have experience of setting up control rooms for dealing with a hostage situation in Afghanistan (yes, really), you are apparently not sufficiently qualified to be someone's part-time secretary or, as your expectations lower, to be left in charge of a supermarket till, or stack shelves. I wasn't fussy, I'd have happily done either. While all this is going on your savings dwindle until you start to miss bills. When the final demands start to come you ignore them while you can because you still have a tiny bat squeak of hope that surely something will turn up. You keep scanning the sits vac and sending off applications (over 500 in my case). Then you miss your rent payment and the threat of eviction starts to loom. You don't know what to do or where to turn so you set your pride to one side and try the welfare office who are kind but have suffered their own economic setbacks and you're not on the street, yet. You start going to bed hungry because you can't afford to eat properly and then your health begins to suffer. The stress begins to take over and you find you can't sleep. You start to put things in hock to pay the rent and keep a roof over your head - precious things you haven't a hope of getting back.

You find that when you go out you scuttle from destination to destination and try to avoid looking at anyone in case they can read the worry and shame in your face. You haven't had a haircut in 18 months and have run out of makeup so you start to worry that if you do get an interview you will look scruffy and unprofessional. You can't afford to visit your family much but when you do you put on a front. You are exhausted. You are so spent you have no tears at your father's funeral. Eventually you acknowledge that you can't go on but you're trapped by the hope that if you can just hang on a little bit longer then all you've worked for can be saved. It's the hope that kills you.

So, for the love of God, don’t bung us yet another report into the depressing status quo - tell us instead what can and will be done.

By Helen Walmsley-Johnson

Twitter: @TheVintageYear

hildajenniJ Mon 27-Oct-14 12:09:09

How is a retired Nurse supposed to live on the basic state pension. I'm 62 and have taken an early morning cleaning job to supplement my pension. My DH is on shop workers salary, and retires in 18 months time.
I retired in June and could find no other type of work. I'm fit and healthy, with all my mental faculties intact, and still have a lot to give. Menial work needs to be done but I feel I am wasted there.

Ana Mon 27-Oct-14 12:14:42

How have you managed to get a state pension at 62, hilda? confused

Ana Mon 27-Oct-14 12:24:15

Sorry, I realise I'm wrong about that, hilda, it's just that there was a thread recently where a member mentioned that her friend wasn't entitled to state pension at 63.

I find it very confusing as I became entitled to mine at 61 years 2 months and I, too, am 63.

Eloethan Mon 27-Oct-14 14:09:11

I'm 64 and got my state pension about six months after I turned 60. Unfortunately those born later have much longer than six months to wait. I realise I am fortunate and it must feel very unfair to those who have to be much older to get it.

janerowena Mon 27-Oct-14 15:12:32

I think once any woman, or man for that matter, cuts back their hours they are done for. They are the first to be made redundant, they are just trimmed off the payroll as son as payroll cuts are requested. I was the assistant accountant to the financial director/ salaries and pensions administrator for a large travel company, and job-sharing mothers and older women with family problems who asked to go part-time were always the first to be axed. I watched and quaked.

It's also partly out of sight, out of mind. When I had my daughter I asked to be able to work from home for part of the week. It was fine, I used another company's computer system (back in the days of IBM38s) because they were closer to home. However, in my near-absence I wasn't kept as in touch with what was going on as I had been, and was shocked to hear that another company bought us out. Of course, they had all their own accountancy staff and didn't need any of us, but I honestly think that the only reason they kept me on for as long as they did was because the sleazeball of an accountant they had fancied me.

Anne58 Mon 27-Oct-14 18:48:22

I am 56, won't get a state pension until I'm 66! As many of you know, following redundancy I have had a real struggle to find a job (I don't live in the best area for employment).

I recognise much in the blog, as someone with a mortgage I didn't qualify for housing benefit, and would not have survived last Christmas without the "kindness of strangers" and selling some jewelry(at scrap value).

I am currently in a job which I hate, but too frightened to leave until I have something else lined up, which past experience shows could take a damn long time!

annsixty Mon 27-Oct-14 19:13:14

So sorry that the job is not working out so well phoenix and as you say another could be a long time coming. Best wishes for a quicker solution this time.

rosequartz Mon 27-Oct-14 20:16:22

DH stopped putting his date of birth on job application forms and did get taken on again in his 60s. After he retired he then got asked to go back and do a couple of short-term projects as he had done so well. No-one seemed to worry about his age when he went for interview, although if he had put his dob on the application forms they may have gone straight into the bin!

Starling Mon 27-Oct-14 20:25:44

I am in a similar situation - redundancy when I was just under 55 - the age at which I would have been entitled to small employment pension, which is now deferred to 60 leaving me with five years to fill. State pension not until age 66. Not having much luck so far trying to get a job although have tried both direct applications and via job agencies. Fortunately am married and DH still working - but this is uncomfortable for me as have always been financially independent.

Mads Tue 28-Oct-14 19:00:04

I got made redundant alongside others in 2012 due to Government cut backs. Could not get a job despite a good CV. One interviewer had the cheek to tell ask my age, clearly had not looked at my CV. Promptly told me they have an age policy!!
Got fed up with being insulted so now run my own business. It ticks away nicely. I should have done it years ago.

Gracesgran Wed 29-Oct-14 09:03:48

Just as a point of interest you should not put your age on a CV and no employer has the right to ask although, if they look at your work history they can make a calculated guess.

I have just turned 65 and am one of the last tranche to get the state pension a 60. I set up my own business as I left work at 59 due to ill health and could not see myself getting back into a job although I had originally intended to work 'til 65 to improve my personal pension.

I am interested to see you say hildajenniJ as I do believe you can live on what the state will give you (as opposed to the basic state pension). I am not saying I think this is enough, just that it is possible. If all you are getting is the basic I assume your household income exempts you from any help. Why are you not drawing your nursing pension btw?

Phoenix, if your income is so low that you would, if you paid rent, get housing benefit, you should be getting help with your mortgage interest. I would go back and ask again.

IMO the biggest problems is not just for women but for men too. We need a view of work where we go up to the top of the curve and then down again, not up and up and then retire. The down might be fewer hours in the same job or a less onerous job but both employers and employees have to prepare for this.

gillybob Thu 30-Oct-14 10:06:40

I'm like you phoenix no state pension until I am at least 67, although by the time we come to retire (if indeed that ever happens) the goalposts will have no doubt shifted to 68,69 or even 70 who knows?

I am 52 and can honestly say I am financially much worse off than I was 10 years ago. DH and I run a small business from which (when finances allow) I take a very small wage equivalent to around £3 per hour. I am seriously considering looking for another job that I could do alongside, just to bring some extra money in. Unfortunately I have several other unpaid family responsibilities to consider and there are only so many hours in any day afterall.

glassortwo Thu 30-Oct-14 22:37:39

Having been made redundant in 2008 at the age of 52 I found it impossible to find any employment in the field I was trained.

After many unsuccessful job applications I eventually started to apply for lesser qualified roles and adjusting my CV to reflect that, but fell at the interview stage as they wanted a younger person and with less qualifications, even though I could do these roles standing on my head I was passed over for someone younger.

So I started baby minding my DDs children so she could afford to go back full time into the work place. I have also done a few small part time shop jobs ( which I hadn't done since my college days) to get out amongst adults after a day looking after children but it became untenable juggling both.

I am lucky my DH is still working, but I will have a short fall in my pension by staying at home to care for my DGC but that's a different side to all of this.

I don't care what anyone claims about age discrimination it does go on, the wealth of expertise that is being thrown on the scrap heap everyday is disgraceful.

Kiara Fri 31-Oct-14 15:37:38

I am very lucky. I took early retirement/vol redundancy at 53 with an occupational pension and we planned to go and live abroad with my DH still working. Unfortunately it turned out DH had other plans and I returned to the UK in 2009, separated, now divorced. After a while travelling and indulging myself (sleep, books, gardening, seeing friends) I needed to go back to work to stabilise my personal financial position and give me back a purpose in life. In 2011 I was very fortunate to get a fantastic job with a national charity. Going back to work allowed me to buy a house and more recently to be able to visit my new granddaughter who lives far away. Nearly 3 years on I'm still working and plan to do so for another 3 years although I get my state pension in a year.

Most of the folk I work with are half my age which is great in some ways but does leave me feeling a bit left out in others. I have to do a bit of travelling in this job and that is where my age does take a toll, my energy levels dip a lot more quickly now. I think I'm probably the second oldest person in the organisation but they don't 'see' my age, they see my experience and ideas and approach to the job as an asset. I am dreading giving up though. I don't want to go back to doing 'not a lot'.

It's a travesty that we still see people in terms of their chronological age. I wish I had practical tips to offer. I don't, apart from the divorce I was just lucky but I do wish anyone else who is looking for work after 55 all the best.

NewGranny Fri 31-Oct-14 16:56:53

I really feel that forcing women to work longer is having a big effect on the problem of caring for elderly parents. When we retired at 60 we could spend time caring for our parents but now they have to go into homes or have carers at home because their daughters are at work. I would be interested to know if any studies have been done to find out how many women in the 60-65 age group would have been carers if they could have afforded to retire.
At 61 I am doing office work and struggling to keep up with the youngsters and new technology. I struggled to care for my Mum who ended up in a care home and has since died. I am now going through the same with my Dad. I moved house, downsizing to get some money in the bank so I could drop a day at work, which I spend caring for my grandson to help my daughter out. I am fed up with the sandwich generation being the scapegoat for the mis-management of this country's finances!

GrannyGalactica Sat 01-Nov-14 11:27:20

I'm now 65 and have been happily retired for 2 years. I got my state pension at 60 and, because I worked for a few years in the Civil Service (at the lowest admin grade) I have a small pension from that as well.
I took an early retirement option at 50 but my marriage ended so I had to return to full time work. Over the next 13 years I was never out of work. I became a medical secretary, a GP receptionist and a general "temp" then moved to the other end of the country and rejoined the Civil Service as a JobCentre Plus advisor, first on temporary terms and then permanently. Aged 58, I returned home and transferred to another CS department, which I left at the age of 63.
I can honestly say that, apart from the medical jobs, I have not enjoyed the work, which has been monotonous, mundane and far from satisfying. However, I have enjoyed the company of my much younger colleagues and, because I have always been interested in IT, was able to learn from them and to share my knowledge. I became something of a guru for some of them! I never felt left out or awkward in their company. I joined them on nights out and still get invitations to join them for lunches and parties.
I do believe there are jobs for older workers who are adaptable and prepared to work at mundane jobs, probably well below their capabilities. I think we should be open minded about what work we do and who we do it with and accept that our colleagues and managers will be young enough to be our children or grandchildren. We have no option but to work so we must accept what we can get and look for the good in it.
Funnily enough, I applied for numerous jobs while I was in my forties and rarely received a response, let alone an interview. Evidently, I became more attractive in my fifties! Was that because of my age or because of my lower expectations?
I would add that my own family are far away and my parents are dead so I have no responsibilities. This is a mixed blessing as, in consequence, I have no family support.

MaxineCook Mon 03-Nov-14 10:24:52

This thread frustrates me a lot, because I am an over-50's woman who has been actively trying to employ retired or semi-retired people for many months now, to work in my growing domestic cleaning business, and I have really struggled to find any. Having experienced ageism myself in a previous career that I took time out from and tried to get back into, I understand how difficult it is to be taken seriously once you get to a certain age. I know my own worth, and how great an asset I would be to any employer, and I feel very strongly about offering opportunities to older people just like me, who still need to work. Just bear in mind, when venting frustrations about how hard it is to be taken seriously, that not every employer will turn their back on you. Some, like me, would welcome you with open arms, support you, TREASURE you in fact, as valuable role models in the teams they are trying to grow, and do everything in their human power to give you a decent chance, if it were only easier for them to find you! smile There seems to be an assumption that age is a barrier, and maybe that is what stops people from even applying, or maybe too many see domestic services as beneath them. Well for me, and I know I'm not the only employer out here who would say it, rejecting older workers is most definitely NOT what we would do!!! Quite the opposite.

alex57currie Mon 03-Nov-14 11:39:57

After reading MaxineCook's post I went onto a NW jobsite. The hourly rate for a wide range of jobs (med. receptionist, cleaner, shop assasstant etc) was between £6:52-£7:00. Shocking. And they want a pound of flesh and some. Don't get me wrong, hard work doesn't frighten me.

janerowena Mon 03-Nov-14 13:01:31

It wouldn't frighten me either, a friend of my sister's has a business like Maxine's, but when dodgy knees, eyesight, hips etc, happen all many of us is our old desk jobs back. My sister couldn't find a job up here so had to move back to London only a couple of weeks ago, as she is a widow. She did find it very hard working for her friend for so little money and being on her feet all day. I did warn her that if she came up here, workwise all she would find was either growing cabbages or looking after them. And then she would have to fight off the Poles and Portuguese first.

auntbett Wed 05-Nov-14 18:00:08

I think it's down to necessity for many people to keep on working way past retirement age because it's a daunting task to try and manage on the basic state pension. I have been in my current position for 20 years and have worked in total for 50 years now. My current job has become busier and busier but I do not anticipate retiring until I have to. Having worked out a few sums, I realise that the state pension would not even cover the monthly outgoings for utilities and community charge. The ultimate decision I will have to make when I cannot carry on working any longer is to move to a more affordable area, leaving behind memories of my late husband, memories of bringing up a family and all my friends and neighbours - 38 years worth of living tied up in the fabric of my house. (Reading this - maybe I should move on anyway!!) I do know it is unlikely that I would ever get another job; on paper I am too old and could be thought past it. However, I run an Orthopaedic private practice, work 40+ hours a week, am never late, hardly ever off sick, am loyal and have a degree. But then, anno domini counts more than that!

Amenhotep Thu 06-Nov-14 19:28:54

I work for a charity for no wages just expenses but the job satisfaction is huge. i am on just basic state pension and struggle month to month but manage with occasional part time work. Self esteem is so important and working, albeit for nothing gives me this.

papaoscar Sun 09-Nov-14 18:29:12

What saddens me on reading this thread is evidence of the deep ocean of unused talent sparkling in the autumn years of so many GNetter's who find themselves, for whatever reason, forced early out of regular employment. The empty words of politicians and community leaders fall like so many withered leaves and are blown away in these harsh times by the cold winds of despair and hopelessness. Many of the organisations which used to provide support for those in need and an opportunity to serve for those prepared to volunteer are struggling to exist. Yet this cruel and harsh government relentlessly continues to tighten the financial screws on those least able to stand the strain, whilst continuing to let slip the leash of proper fiscal control and taxation in respect of many of the richest and most powerful in the land. Shame on them!

janerowena Sun 09-Nov-14 18:33:16

It's true. I have watched Phoenix's search with great interest. I gave up trying when I was 50. We just downsized instead.

etheltbags1 Wed 12-Nov-14 22:30:10

I agree with so many of you, I was widowed quite young but spent my time looking after my DD, I started doing my current job 13 years ago, it is basic wage, zero hours and often just sheer hard slog. I am a cold caller and have to put up with the nastiness of the public who just don't want me knocking on their doors. Im struggling with health probs now and have to work another 6 years but no one wants to know me for another job.
I did start working for an agency doing demonstration work and found myself lifting heavy tables and standing for 6 hours with only a brief break all for 30 quid a day. I cannot get much work doing this at the minute so I keep on door knocking. I fear for the future if I fall or become ill I have no insurance and no security, my savings are gone and I live from month to month, I worry that it will be worse as I get older. I also have to run a car which is so expensive but I cant work at all if I have no car.
My sympathies to anyone in this situation.