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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

Starling Thu 13-Nov-14 12:02:33

I sympathise etheltbags1

GranJan60 Thu 24-Mar-16 16:03:17

Please - anyone affected google WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) - not against pension equality but the way it is being brought in.
Even if you are not personally affected, you are bound to know someone who is. Thanks

mollie Thu 24-Mar-16 17:55:50

I found myself out of work when I was 50 and went to the job centre. The woman behind the desk told me bluntly that I'll find it impossible to get another job. I tried for several years to prove her wrong but despite a degree and several decades of experience I've never managed it. I'm one of those who has to wait until I'm 66 to get my state pension and I can't claim any benefits (although I paid in all my life) because I've a working husband (OK, fair enough when there are others who need help more but not being able to contribute financially in any small way does something to your self-image).

I'm caught in that betwixt and between stage - not retired but not working, feeling I ought to be but not managing it and totally financially dependent upon my lovely OH. At times I feel the rest of the working world has put me on the scrap heap because it's been decided I've nothing left to contribute apart from as an unpaid carer for the family or as a volunteer to the community. I've signed the petition, let's hope it'll do some good.

Luckygirl Thu 24-Mar-16 18:08:51

Over 50s on the scrap heap but cannot get their pensions for 10 years or more. This cannot be right.

jenpax Sat 17-Sep-16 10:05:04

The frustrating thing about many of these posts is the ignorance of the benefits system! If you are unemployed and single or an unemployed couple with a mortgage you can get help with the mortgage interest payments!it's part of the job seekers claim and is called statutory mortgage interest help. You have to claim this when you first claim JSA. Housing Benefit is the benefit paid to people needing rent help it is paid by the local council and is nothing to do with the job centre! In some areas single people or couples with no children would claim a benefit called Universal Credit instead of JSA and HB in all cases if you loose your job for heavens sake go get advice from your local Citizens Advice about potential benefit claims and if your "redundancy" was fairly done (not always the case!) DO NOT wait until you have used up all your savings!!

Willow500 Sun 18-Sep-16 07:30:06

Some years ago aged 48 we had to close the business we'd run for 22 years making ourselves, our son and the workforce redundant. My husband with a vast knowledge in his industry couldn't find a job at all - no one wanted to employ someone nearing 50 who it seemed had failed. He was either classed as 'over qualified' or not having qualifications past the 1960's 'not qualified enough with no degree'. As the MD he was not entitled to government redundancy and felt completely worthless and possibly had a mental breakdown (undiagnosed) due to the situation. For nearly 5 years he tried self employment sitting at home day after day trawling through job ads waiting for the phone to ring, consultancy work and finally was given the opportunity to work for a government funded grant aid company - ironically because of his business knowledge and background. This gave him back his self esteem but then due to cut backs the grants were withdrawn and he was back to looking for something else when the job became untenable. Luckily this time he did find something but now has 2 hours travelling every day and 10 hours work in between. At 62 he'd like to retire but can't really afford to. I was luckier and have worked for the same company for over 12 years now but being born the wrong side of the pension age date am unable to retire for another 3 years either. We are the 'lucky' ones - being employed and still bringing in earnings to cover our outgoings and save a bit. For those who through no fault of their own find themselves unemployable due to age is soul destroying and so short sighted by employers - older people have a wealth of life experience and skills to offer - they may not be able to tick all the boxes for qualifications but that shouldn't exclude them from many of the worthwhile jobs that must be out there they could do standing on their heads!

Maggiemaybe Sun 18-Sep-16 09:07:55

How worrying that someone with the experience and contacts of the OP should end up with so little. And that so many women are ending up in a trap between no work and no pension. I went to the WASPI demo in London this year and just on the train down met one woman who had had to sell her house to get money to live on, and one who was 61 with very poor health who knew she would not live to see any of the pension she had worked for.

I was made redundant just before I turned 60 and am lucky in that I am not alone, have no mortgage and have a small private pension, so we can get by till I get my state pension at 66 (if I'm spared, as my Methodist friend says!). I am however angry that had I been born two years earlier I would have got my state pension at 62 (I have a 41 year NI record). This has knock-on effects too - having to pay £5 a day busfare if I go to look after the grandchildren for one, whereas DH got his bus pass at 60. I personally know others who are valiantly jobseeking, feeling demeaned, told to keep their ages and their health conditions secret, told to prove that they are spending five hours per day looking for work. And constantly worrying about the bills.

gettingonabit Sun 18-Sep-16 09:50:33

There was a discussion on Radio 4 earlier in the week about older women getting back into the job market. In every case, it was recommended that an older applicant should disguise their age in some way if they are to stand a chance in the workplace. This is shocking. Age discrimination is as serious as sex, race, or any other form of discrimination in the workplace. .

Yet you wouldn't expect a black person to hide his or her ethnic origin, or a gay person to hide his or her sexuality from a prospective employer.

Why is it different for age? What's wrong with depth and length of experience?

I'm 57, I've taken time out to care for my child, like many women. I have little chance of getting back to work. Yet I'm at the top of my game in many ways. I'm healthy, fit, mentally as alert as ever.

I'm not "old". Far from it. I can't get my pension for 10 years, yet I'm considered past it.

It's a disgrace.

Honeyrose1 Thu 20-Oct-16 15:10:23

In a way I was lucky that I got my pension at age 60 but I continued to work another year after that. I have worked since the age of 16 with one year off when I had my daughter. I have always chopped and changed my jobs some very different from others and have always been lucky in getting employment. I was widowed at 43 with an 11 year old and needed to carry on working even with widowed mother's allowance. The allowance stopped when my daughter was 18 and unfortunately the job I was doing at the time also stopped! So left with very little money I started to look for a new job at the age of 51. I found that it was much easier to get temp work. I can do office work and was ok with computers so got a temp job at the college. They liked me but job was only for 3 months but I went straight into another temp job for admin with social services. They liked me too and after a year I got asked to be employed by them in a different dept. These were 3 month temporary contracts but luckily got renewed each time and then was offered a permanent contract. I had a variety of jobs within social services and gradually cut down my hours to see if I could manage when I retired. I don't have much of a pension and don't pay any tax and also have a small mortgage but I can manage - just.
If you have a low income then try the site entitled It will let you know what you can claim for e.g. pension credit, housing benefit, council tax rebate. The forms can be pretty formidable but well worth it.

M0nica Thu 20-Oct-16 18:32:59

Twenty years ago, at the age of 53, I took voluntary redundancy into early retirement. I didn't want to go, but the offer from my employer was so good - and with no guarantee that I wouldn't be made summarily redundant the day after the scheme ended, with far less money and a delayed pension, I went. Unlike many OPs, I had no real money worries. I had a professional job, a good occupational pension and DH was in a good professional occupation.

However, whatever my income resources, I didn't want to retire at 53. I was happy to take any job I would enjoy, regardless of salary, but found women in their 50s are utterly unwanted in the labour market. In 15 months I had two interviews. Usually rejections came back so fast, it was clear that it had been written as soon as they saw my date of birth.

As I said, I did not have the financial problems that so many have, so after 18 months I saw an advert by a charity for volunteers to do work that my professional experience made me suited for and I worked for 10 years as a Benefits adviser and Problem solver for older people. During that time I helped hundreds of people obtain hundreds of thousands of pounds in benefits that made their lives easier and also helped them with many other problems. It was very satisfying, but unpaid. As far as the world of work was concerned I was worthless.

I find it very depressing that in 20 years no progress at all has been made to make older women acceptable as potential employees

Pittcity Thu 20-Oct-16 19:05:05

I would like some part time paid employment and never put my age on a CV. But all want experience so you need to put work history - your age can be worked out from that. I have changed my education from O'level to GCSE level.
It is not only age that puts employers off but also the fact that they can pay under 25s less than those over.

grabba Wed 31-May-17 11:47:19

Me and lots like me are lucky enough to be in employment never having had the threat of redundancy.
I can't say I ever thought I would be able to retire before 60 but did think at 60 I could probably cut my hours a bit.
The n I had my letter from the DWP 2 years before SPA of 60 telling me I would now not receive SPA until I am 66.
Bit ticked off to say the least.
The patronising attitude of some (not on this site obviously)towards those who have contributed for the last 40+ years is appalling. We aren't asking for something for nothing.

Janetblogs Wed 31-May-17 18:24:32

Was made redundant at 68 in Dec 2015 after 8 years running a very high flying practice in a top London private hospital - survived by doing temp work and by having a self employed husband ! .
But I now have a 5 day week 10-4 med see. Role working from home so no travelling
Money's not brilliant but I paid off the mortgage and I gave my state pension and husband still working so we can manage - gave cut down dramatically in everything but that was no bad thing
Had big piece in DM about this very subject
The problem is that HR is stuffed with youngsters who cannot envisage being old
And even tho you don't out age on CV these people work it out !

phoenix Wed 31-May-17 18:40:02

You can sort of hide your age on your CV.

Only go back 3 employments, give start or end dates if you must, otherwise just state length of time there.

When it comes to the "Education" section, state something along the lines of qualifications gained in English, (Lang &Lit) Maths, History, Sociology and Advanced Bullshit.

Putting together a CV can be achieved without giving age away, however those bloody application forms are another matter angry

Howcome Thu 01-Mar-18 11:07:57

Nothing's changed I've now been out of work for 1 year and have applied for 5 jobs a day in that year. I generally get the "over qualified" response - others have said they want someone they can train up - I.e. Young and inexperienced. I was advised to contract as companies don't mind your age then and have given up - it seems they do the job centre tell me -"wrinklies hurt companies images" apparently, and "30 somethings feel undermined if they have someone their Mums age working for them" so I'm no going to get anything now, I've almost made it to my 60th birthday when I would have got the relief of my pension - but no savings now, everything has gone, and no pension in sight yet - Job Centre has nothing for me and advise I get help from family until 2024 when I can get a pension - I don't have family that can help - my sister is in a similar position, my daughter is trying to buy a flat- I'll have to cash in the £795 pa private pension I have - pay tax on 75% of it and live another year- maybe 2, by which time the job centre woman will have left for another job and the advice on what to do next is someone else's issue. There is no cure in sightIm afraid - they put up the age but employers do not want anyone over 50 do you cannot bridge the gap. I am however probably more flexible and able than I was at 50, but cannot even fill a shelf - part time as the team lead will be younger and can't manage people older than them alledgedy.

M0nica Fri 02-Mar-18 09:17:12

It depresses me that in 20 years nothing seems to have got better for women in their 50s. In 1996 at the age of 53 I took voluntary redundancy from my career (the alternative was compulsory redundancy on far worse terms), I went back to university for a year and then started job hunting.

I applied for all kinds of work, relating to my previous work, new qualification, or just because the job interested me. In most cases the rejections came back so quickly it was clear that my application was opened, date of birth noted and rejection sent by return of post. At the time I attributed part of the problem to the fact that lots of companies were chucking out the over 50s and we were a drug on the market.

I was fortunate, I had an immediate small pension and DH had a well paid job. After a year, I gave up looking for work and went to work as a volunteer for a charity. The job I had utilised my career skills, and did result in me working as a paid employee for a year to cover someone's maternity leave.

With all that has been said and legislated for since, it is truly depressing that things have got no better in over 20 years.