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A new pilot programme in Greater Manchester will look at how to help over 50s who want to get back to work and find them quality jobs. Beena Nadeem reports.
An estimated one million people between the ages of 50 and state pension age would like to be working but aren’t. The news doesn’t get much better the older you get. After the age of 50, a job loss is 33 percent more likely to lead to long-term unemployment, something that’s leaving countless people in what’s commonly known as the ‘unemployment trap’.
Stuck facing a wide range of challenges around getting back into work, including health, caring responsibilities and ageism, a unique pilot that gets those 50 and over out of poverty and back into fulfilling work will go on to inform a national narrative that aims to reverse trends in worklessness for everyone concerned.
For countless reasons, Greater Manchester is the perfect location for this pilot. Not only does it put older people at the centre of decision-making thanks to Greater Manchester’s Combined Authority (GMCA is a devolved body consisting of 10 local authorities) but it is also happening in what the World Health Organisation has crowned as the UK’s best city/region to grow old in.
The authority’s figures show employment rates of people aged 50-64 are four percent lower in Greater Manchester (over the last decade) than the UK average and forecasts suggest this performance gap will not close over time. Sixty percent of Manchester’s residents aged between 50-64 are economically inactive and the city region is no different from others in that its aging population is growing rapidly (by 2036, 14 percent of people are estimated to be 75 and over – an increase of 75% from 2011). What is certain is that if things don’t change, the problems that come with worklessness such as poverty, ill-health and social isolation, will only get worse.
The pilot will be unique in its combination of stakeholders: a major statutory body (the DWP); a charity, Ageing Better, and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.
Lead partner Ageing Better is also about to launch a pilot in the West Midlands, which will work on getting people who have been made redundant in the area back into work. This sits alongside existing programmes around ill-health and worklessness.
Jagdeep Soor is from Ageing Better and is programme manager for the Greater Manchester pilot. He explains: “It’s not enough to find any work. It has to be fulfilling work. Bad work can affect mental health just as much as unemployment… it can lead to living longer in poverty, health issues with social isolation and poverty hitting hard.”
He adds that more drastic hits to our economy caused by Brexit (and losing younger workers) as well as waiting to see the full extent that the ravages of the coronavirus will have on the economy mean older workers will be needed more than ever.
“Things in the labour market are changing so we have to be mindful of what the pilot will look like in 10 months or two years in line with what the labour market will look like then. We’re trying to do something long-lasting, sustainable and scaleable, which will go forward to influence policy, nationally,” says Soor.
As the pilot focuses on economically inactive people – those not claiming benefits, including those who retired and are dipping into their savings or have not been able to find a job or those facing redundancy – a big factor is confidence.
“We mainly found [barriers] around softer skills and confidence. In the current climate we need to focus on using digital technology as well as doing something around redundancy and how we can re-employ people more quickly before they lose confidence,” says Soor.
“We need to look at how we retain the skills and expertise within specific sectors and ensure they’re transferable.”
When it comes to carers, Soor explains that the team have had to amend their thinking towards bringing carers into work.
“Being in work is not the main priority for carers. The cared-for person dominates your day-to-day life,” he says, adding “and, for whatever reason, when your caring responsibilities are over, you don’t know what support mechanisms are out there; looking at benefits or a job can seem quite alien. I would align it to someone leaving the armed forces and entering back into civilian life.”
The Manchester Employment Support for Over-50s will be launched in two phases, the first lasting up to 18 months. This will be exploratory, involving research and gathering evidence of what works and what doesn’t and some service designing. The second phase will be delivered in three or four very different boroughs in the city region.
The charity also has programmes funded by the National Lottery Community Fund looking at getting carers back into employment across Salford, Wigan and Bolton and is about to announce the launch of a pilot in the West Midlands which will look at getting those aged 50 and over, who have been made redundant from services sectors including car manufacturing, back into work, all the while taking advantage of opportunities which will be brought about through everything from the Commonwealth Games to HS2. Together, these will inform and help direct the pilot and future work in this area.
Bias is a big issue. There’s no point doing all this work and then employers being unreceptive to taking on older staff.
“We will look at worklessness, skills, redundancy, and retraining as well as employee-facing elements such as flexible working and age bias in recruitment,” says Soor.
“There’s no point getting someone to a job-ready stage if employers don’t incorporate this into flexible working.
“We need to make sure there’s no age bias in recruitment and that employers look at making reasonable adjustments to support someone in work, and make sure words used in job ads are age-friendly.”
The pilot may also look into giving employers some sort of age accreditation for being an age-aware company.
Overall though, it is fundamental to the future of how worklessness and older people can move forward in the UK. As Soor says: “It’s not a Manchester thing either – it’s a thing that affects older people everywhere in terms of anything from the mental health issues that come from social isolation – to poverty – which leads to people dipping into their pensions pots early.”