Government must end the scandal of Britain's 'silver scrap-heap'
If you ever doubt peoples’ interest in politics, just start a debate about welfare reform. You will find your audience doesn’t need much warming up.
That’s what Labour has been doing in marginal seats all over Britain for the last year and I can assure you there’s a ready market for Ed Miliband’s message that the ‘system isn’t working’. Peoples’ confidence is shaken. And they’re running out of patience with a government that promised so much and has delivered so little.
I don’t think there’s anyone quite as angry as Britain’s over 50s. The people who have spent a lifetime raising families or caring or working and paying into the system for over 30 years only to find when they needed help there was almost nothing for them.
Those born in 1963 were born into a turbulent, exciting world. The Beatles released their first number 1 album. President Kennedy was assassinated. The Profumo scandal shook Britain. Now as these workers enter their 50s, they face a turbulent, stressful world of the ‘silver squeeze’. Many care for parents and grandchildren. Many are still providing board and lodging to children who can’t afford to move. Prices are going up, wages going down and long term unemployment is spiralling out of control. In fact long term unemployment is hitting the over 50s harder than anyone else.
Nearly half of all unemployed people in their 50s have been unemployed for longer than a year and the over 50s now spend longer on the dole than any other age group, anaverage of 32 weeks.
Many now face, what a lady in Reading described to me as a journey to hell and back; they lose their job. Perhaps they become disabled. It takes ages to find more work. Bills mount up. And so they face the frightening prospect of retirement on a small pension with whacking great huge debt to pay down. It’s terrifying. And people think they were paying in for a very different deal. What really sticks in the craw is that the only help on offer is an order from the Job Centre to fill in twenty CV’s a week. That’s it.
Now on average, some-one in their 50s, who has worked all their life, has paid in over £100,000 in National Insurance. ‘It makes you wonder why we bothered paying in all those years’ said a man to me in Gloucester; ‘they don’t bother to look at our skills. They tell us to apply for anything. It’s just banging square pegs into round holes’.
I don’t think we can go on like this. It simply isn’t fair. And it’s a huge waste of our national talent and experience. Britain’s army of unemployed over 50s have between them 3.5 billion days of life experience.
I think social security should offer more for those that chipped in most either caring or paying in National Insurance. Our most experienced workers and carers have earned an extra hand. We should make sure there something better for when they need it. That’s why we’re looking at just how we put the something for something bargain at the heart of social security reform, starting with a new deal for the over 50s.
We should be doing more for the people who have paid most in. That’s why Ed Miliband has already asked Labour’s Policy Review to look at higher rates of JSA for those who have paid more into the system,
And we are looking at more fresh thinking from around the world where there’s a lot more help for those that have paid most in if they fall out of a work. The reality is we’re falling behind social security systems around the world in countries like Germany, Japan, Canada, and America. They have far better systems for supporting older workers back into jobs.
Germany offers higher rates of JSA, whilst Japan offers specialist offices for older job seekers with placement services to help older job-seekers with specialised support for those who used to be in managerial, professional or technical positions in so-called ‘Talent Banks’.
Canada, on the other hand, is exploring a training grant for older workers looking to develop new skills. Businesses can claim up to £9,500 to train workers for an existing job or a better job at an eligible training institution.
In America, under the Obama administration’s Aging Workers Initiative, they have developed services to support and train older workers so that they can take up employment and advancement opportunities in high growth sectors, with a host of further specialised programmes from state to state
If we get it right, there’s a huge prize. If we offered more help finding work for those who've paid in for 30 years, we'd have more tax-payers to help pay down debt faster. If we raised the employment rate amongst our over 50s to the level enjoyed by Japan, they’d be 438,000 more people in work, and £3 billion in extra tax flowing into the Treasury.
People in Britain are saying loud and clear that they think the system is broken and the government is simply failing to fix it. That’s why it’s time to end the scandal of Britain’s silver scrapheap.