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Page last updated at 02:17 GMT, Monday, 4 April 2011 03:17 UK
Growing army of over-50s join the battle to find work

By Fiona Phillips
BBC Panorama

Fiona Phillips and Lord Digby Jones
Fiona Phillips asked Lord Digby Jones for job advice for the over-50s

We may not be familiar with the fact that "sick" means cool or that a spot of "chillaxing"' might be a good idea on a Sunday afternoon, but it turns out that we over-50s actually do have a lot in common with Britain's 18-24 year olds - far too many of us are unemployed.

There is currently an army of almost 400,000 over-50s who face a growing stack of rejection letters.

Perhaps more concerning is the fact that almost half are classed by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) as long term unemployed , meaning they have been out of work for at least a year.

For the over-50s, the ONS data reveals that the odds of finding another job are lower than in any other age group and they rarely make headlines or are the subject of government back-to-work initiatives.

Put simply, time is not on their side.

Workplace ageism?

During the deep recession of the 1980s, my dad was made redundant from his job in middle management and the memories of his own battle to find work after a lifetime spent providing for his family made this a deeply personal story for me.

I hadn't realised how important the status of a job is, how you are identified by the role that you play
Lindy Griffiths, 52

I left my own full-time position on the GMTV sofa to embark on new challenges just as I hit 50 - so far, so good - but I know how fortunate I have been.

So is there a growing issue in the British workplace of ageism, are employers turning their backs on older workers? Or are aging workers too unwilling to change with the times?

Ian McCaffery from Salford, who turns 50 this year, told me that losing his job as a banqueting manager after almost 30 years in the hospitality industry has shaken his confidence and hit him harder than he could have imagined.

"When I lost my parents I thought there could have been nothing else worse, but when I lost my job it was like losing my parents, it was actually like losing my family."

He said as the people interviewing him get younger and younger, he feels that his experience, reliability and maturity are not valued and there is a sense that he is not capable of putting in the hard work.

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Fiona Phillips presents Panorama: Finished at Fifty?
BBC One, Monday, 4 April

"I still am vibrant, I like to keep going. I can still work 16 hours a day no problem," he said of his energy for hard work.

Andy Harrop, policy director of charity Age UK, said while most employers have realised that they cannot overlook older workers for promotion based on their age without risking consequences, not hiring them in the first place is a different matter.

"There's much more age discrimination in recruitments where employers don't know the potential applicants," he said.

'Relocate, emigrate'

Former trade minister Lord Digby Jones said older workers are at real risk of being forced out of the workforce into an unwelcome - and under-funded - retirement before they are ready after enjoying a bountiful job market throughout their 30s and 40s.

He said that while the economy continues to shed jobs at every age and level, he believes many older workers have become set in their ways and that could turn into a barrier to finding employment.

"Have any of them thought of emigrating? What about being mobile within Britain?"

He also said some need to think of retraining and volunteering as a way to keep in the habit of going to work. Perhaps more painfully, he said the idea of accepting substantial pay cuts cannot be ruled out.

After 30 years in management in both the finance and legal sectors, Andrew Macreavy, 57, was made redundant a year ago and despite 490 applications he has only had seven job interviews and has yet to find work.

Andrew said while he had considered retraining, he has household bills to pay in the meantime. His small pension pot and his wife's part-time wages mean that the Kent couple do not quality for any state support.

"All that takes time, time needs funding and funds are sadly lacking at the moment."

Time bomb

Age UK's Andy Harrop said the bleak outlook for the public sector in Britain is a time-bomb for the over 50s.

Council worker: Job loss 'knocked me'

While it is expected that 400,000 jobs in the public sector will disappear by 2015, a survey of local councils by Wise Owls, an employment support agency specialising in older workers, found that the over 50s will make up almost 60% of their planned redundancies.

"We could see now a sort of second downturn, which would involve people in their 50s far more than the first banking-led crisis, which perhaps involved younger workers."

Lindy Griffiths, 52, was an early victim of sweeping funding cuts to local councils.

A trained teacher with 22 years experience, Lindy took up a senior position with Rochdale council's schools improvement team.

But a loss of funding last year cost Lindy her job and with it, she said, a part of her identity.

"I hadn't realised how important the status of a job is, how you are identified by the role that you play," she said of the shock of being jobless.

Employment minister Chris Grayling said the private sector would lead the recovery in the job market for workers of all ages.

"The evidence is the economy is growing and people will invest and they will create jobs," he said of private enterprise.

The jobless 50-somethings that I have met certainly hope they will be given the chance to participate in that growing economy.

If they are not, they and the thousands more expected to join their ranks in the coming months risk becoming Britain's latest lost generation.

Panorama: Finished at Fifty? BBC One, Monday, 4 April at 2030BST and then available in the UK on the BBC iPlayer.

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