Page last updated at 23:57 GMT, Wednesday, 17 March 2010

'I'm never going back to the job centre'

By Joanne Babbage
Business reporter, BBC News, Wolverhampton

Ansel Wallace
Ansel Wallace has been unemployed for three months

Ansel Wallace from Wolverhampton will no longer be signing on.

He's 53 and has been unemployed for three months.

"They make you feel less than human at the job centre," he says.

"It's too stressful. They make you feel like a burden. They put up barriers so that once you're over 50 you're made permanently redundant. I'm never going back."

Mr Wallace is among the growing numbers of jobless over 50s who feel they are being let down by the system.

Pages of jobs

John Belewski, who's 57 and from Smethwick in the West Midlands, was working as a mechanical and electrical engineer when he was made redundant in June 2009.

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He's having trouble finding work in those fields but he does have a fork-lift truck driving licence and drivers are in demand.

Every week he see pages of jobs advertised in the local papers. But unfortunately for Mr Belewski, since losing his job, his licence has expired and because he's unemployed he cannot afford to renew it.

Have confidence in yourself, your skills and experience and get your CV into shape but don't mention your age
Chris Ball, The Age and Employment Network

For several months he has been promised help to get on a training course but it either keeps getting pushed back or the referrals get lost in the system, he says.

The irony is that if he was in work already applying for government funding to renew the licence would have been easier.

"I'm going to look like an idiot if I apply for a job when I know, and they know, I haven't got the right qualifications," he says.

Transferable skills

"It's a crazy system," says John White, one of the directors of Pisces WM, a not-for-profit organisation funded by community grants and Lottery money.

John Belewski has been unemployed since June 2009

"If you've got a job but you need training then you can get the funds but if you haven't got a job and you need training, but there are jobs there, you can't."

Pisces WM runs a job club for the over 50s in the Ettingshall area of Wolverhampton as part of a project called Unlocking The Potential Of People Over 50.

"Older workers who are out of work may find it harder to find alternative employment," says Mr White.

"Employers often overlook the years of experience and transferable skills that people in this age group typically have."

'Scrap heap'

According to the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures, in the three months from November 2009 to January 2010, 398,000 people over the age of 50 were unemployed, an increase of 25% on the same period a year earlier.

Avtar Rahl
Avtar Rahl worked in electronics for 32 years before he was made redundant

More worryingly, of that number 138,000 over 50s have been unemployed for more than 12 months, which is a 41% increase on the year.

"People who have been unemployed for a long time have a much lower chance of finding work again," says TUC General secretary Brendan Barber.

"There is a real danger that the UK's older working population is being left on the scrap heap."

Avtar Rahl, 58, is the human face of those statistics.

Need more information?
Jobcentre Plus : job seeking advice
Directgov : benefit and training information
TAEN : employment advice for the over 50s

He had been working in electronics for 32 years when he was made redundant over a year ago. He was referred to the job club by Jobcentre Plus.

"Over the last few years I watched the staff numbers on the shop floor dwindle from over 100 to a handful as the firm became fully automated," he says

"But I though I'd be safe until retirement, it was only a few years away."

"I wasn't safe."

Job opportunities

But there is a glimmer of hope for Mr Rahl. He's just been told there could be a job working with Pisces WM.

Bert Booth
Bert Booth started working with computers in 1963

And Bert Booth, who's 64 in May, could also be in luck.

Unemployed for three months, he started his working career in 1963, working in computer programming. He has since worked as a systems analyst, an IT consultant and a software developer.

He says he was unable to find a job through Jobcentre Plus and was also referred to the club.

Mr White thinks he will find it relatively easy to find a job for someone who has as much experience as Mr Booth.

Pisces WM has a partner organisation in Huddersfield which provides IT support to 500 voluntary organisation.

"I can definitely see an opening there for someone with Bert's expertise", he says.

Pisces WM is able to develop and manage grant funded projects. The income from these means its able to recruit members of the public.

"We are by common consent a unique operation within Britain and able to respond and react in a way that is outside the competence of any public sector body hence our success so far," says Mr White.

Improving employability

The government recently announced a new £10m programme to help unemployed people over 50 get back to work.

John White
John White runs the over 50s job club

They say the extra £10m will cover specialist and tailored support, extra time with advisers, earlier access to retraining and skills support, and an early chance of work trials to help them try new fields.

"Older workers are too important to the economy to be abandoned to long term unemployment or early retirement as happened in previous recessions," says Yvette Cooper, the Work and Pensions Secretary.

But according to Mr White, the present system needs cleaning up before new initiatives are brought in.

"In Wolverhampton alone, there are 27 agencies all offering information, skills training and advice. Its an utterly cluttered market place."

"We have people here who are made unemployed after a long period of employment and are suddenly coming into this mass of bureaucracy. It must be bewildering."

The New Deal 50 plus scheme, which is aimed specifically at older jobseekers, was replaced in many areas of the UK in October 2009 with the Flexible New Deal which caters for unemployed people of all ages.

One of the differences between the two is that you can join New Deal 50 plus after six months of unemployment but most people cannot join the Flexible New Deal until they have been unemployed for 12 months.

So some people over 50 are getting unemployment help sooner than others simply because of where they live.

Computer skills

You can find out which scheme is running in your area, plus advice on improving your CV and becoming self-employed, on the Directgov website.

"If you've not had experience of looking for a job for the last 20 years you need to become familiar with new ways of finding work, such as on the internet," says Chris Ball from The Age and Employment Network.

And computer training is something he feels every older unemployed person should be doing as IT skills are now needed in most jobs.

"Have confidence in yourself, your skills and experience and get your CV into shape but don't mention your age," says Mr Ball.

"Don't be embarrassed about it - the law says employers aren't meant to discriminate against age - but don't volunteer it."

The Age and Employment Network also has hints and tips for older job seekers on its website.

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