Living Longer, Working Longer Roadshows
30th November, 2018
The number of workers in Wales aged over 50 has risen by almost a quarter over the last decade or so. In contrast, the number of younger people in the workforce has fallen during this period. However, despite this increase in the number of older workers Wales still has one of the lowest employment rates for older workers compared to the rest of the UK (see figure 1).
This combination of an ageing workforce, yet low employment rates, has led to a drive by Welsh Government to raise awareness among employers of the need to train, retain and recruit older workers. Through CADR we have been involved in this ‘No Best Before Date’ campaign as well as taking an active role in the Ministerial Advisory Forum on Ageing committee on Preparing for the Future. In order to ensure that the issues facing older workers in Wales are heard at these incredibly important groups we organised a number of roadshows around Wales. One of the key ideas behind this was to listen to the experiences and ideas of older workers from a wide variety of occupations and locations across the country. One of our concerns is that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ policy for older workers and that policy makers need to appreciate the range of different jobs that older workers do and the different challenges and opportunities that they face. Just as there are regional differences in the UK as a whole, there are also differences within Wales. For example, the employment rate of older workers is much lower in West Wales and the Valleys (66%) than it is in mid-Wales (75%).
We ran four roadshows throughout October of this year, one in the Rhondda Valley, one in Rhyl, one in Porthmadog and the last one in Swansea. We invited anyone aged 50 and over, whether they were in work or not, to come along and tell us their stories, both positive and negative about working in later life. I was overwhelmed by people’s response. We had a number of particularly large meetings in the Rhondda (and I would like to extend my thanks to those who helped us organise them) and Swansea. But even where fewer people attended the power of their stories was compelling. Much of what people told us was hard to hear. There was a general sense that things were tough and getting tougher for older workers, particularly those who found themselves out of work, often due to factory closures, and who wanted to return to work. Difficulty in getting to and from work was a major theme not just for those who are reliant of public transport but for those with caring responsibilities too. The lack of awareness about the issues facing older workers amongst job centre staff was another issue, which often led to people stopping attending and losing their unemployment benefits. In some extreme cases we heard of blatant age discrimination by recruiters who simply told workers they were ‘too old’ for the job. Clearly there are issues that need to be addressed. But we also heard positive stories, of people who were looking to use their craft skills to set up and upcycling business or the possibility of repurposing old community centres into remote working hubs in rural areas.
This has been a rewarding, but challenging, experience and we are looking for ways to continue working with these communities as part of CADR as well as running more roadshows in other parts of the country in the coming year. It would be great if you could join us.