Ageism and poverty

One of the big drawbacks of using sweeping generalisations to describe a group of people based on their age is that it can be very misleading. Assuming all older people are wealthy and have financial security can lead to lack of attention and regard towards the 1.9 million older people who are living in poverty. (1)

Unemployment (and other consequences of the Covid crisis) combined with the changes to the retirement age is going to exacerbate poverty for people who have recently retired and those approaching retirement. This is particularly so for women, single people, disabled people, BAME communities, those who rent, and other older people who have faced discrimination throughout their lives and will face pension poverty.

In his blog ‘No experience required’ - Ageism in the Job Market’ (2) Patrick Thomson provides an overview of some key research which revealed that many older workers face age discrimination. This occurs in recruitment, with a third of over 50s believing they have been turned down for a job because of their age. Also within workplaces, with 32% of current older employees feeling they have had fewer opportunities for training and progression.

It impacts older workers' sense of worth; the study showed 29% of over 50s don’t think their workplace values older workers and 20% think people at work see them as less capable as they get older. The wider labour market also reflects these biases, with rising levels of unemployment amongst the over 50s who want to work, and many people feeling that they’ve been excluded from getting jobs, promotions, or training opportunities.

In response to this research The Centre for Ageing Better have set out five simple actions so that employers can Become an Age Friendly Employer and improve the way they recruit, support and retain older workers.

Older people are not the only victims of age-based discrimination within the workplace, as Ageing Equal describe, the stereotypes and biases that younger people are just as pernicious:

“The belief that young people are inexperienced and need to get a foot on the labour market – often at any cost – reigns supreme. While this may seem like a logical assumption, it can actually have disastrous effects on young people’s transition to independence and autonomy”. (3)

Whilst these issues existed prior to Covid-19, the economic cost of the pandemic exacerbates these workplace inequalities further. Lockdown has had serious implications on the financial security of many older people. Research carried out this year by the Centre for Ageing Better, on people in their 50s and 60s shows that: (4)

“Almost half believe that their personal finances will worsen over the next year. Only 39% of those who are currently furloughed, or of working age but not in employment, are confident that they will be employed in the future.”

Once again it is likely to be those at both ends of the working age categories - younger and older workers - who will bear the brunt of any potential recession. The likelihood of redundancies and a reduction in new jobs seems increasingly inevitable.

The impact of job losses and reductions in income is already being felt by older people as a report commissioned by Rest Less (5) shows increasing numbers of people, aged over 50, in the UK do not have enough money to pay for basic necessities and claims for universal credit from this group have more than doubled since March.

Stuart Lewis, the founder of Rest Less, said: “'The surge in older claimants highlights the extremely precarious financial situation that many of this demographic find themselves in today. With eligibility criteria requiring less than £16,000 of savings to qualify, this highlights how little of a financial buffer people have been able to save, despite many having worked hard for more than three decades already.” (6)

Anna Dixon, Chief Executive at The Centre for Ageing Better has called upon the government to do more to support older workers as we ease out of lockdown: (7)

“These figures are deeply worrying. If this generation continues to be an afterthought in the coronavirus recovery, we will see a lost generation entering retirement in poorer health and worse financial circumstances than those before them.

We know that the over 50s already face serious disadvantages in the workforce, are more likely to be made redundant and struggle more than any other group to get back into work once they have fallen out. And yet this group is being ignored when it comes to proposed actions to support the recovery.”

Claire Turner, from the Centre for Ageing Better, on the importance of preserving the ‘triple lock’ to reduce poverty:

‘The pensions triple lock, while not a perfect tool, plays a vital role in providing an adequate basic income to those who rely on the state pension for their main, or only, source of income.’ (8)

In her blog ‘Turning coronavirus into a generational battle will harm people of all ages’ she also questions the tendency for the debate about the economy and recovery to be pitched along generational lines. She turns around the age based assumptions that we have also been challenging in the Age Proud Leeds campaign:

‘In June, the ONS estimated that 100,000 people under the age of 20 were shielding due to conditions that made them particularly vulnerable to the disease. And over 60s are the group most likely to have lost hours and pay due to lockdown.’

We would also endorse her appeal that the recovery must include strategies to support people of all ages who are facing unemployment and poverty. These plans must also consider our ‘future selves’ so that we don’t continue pension poverty for future generations.

Sarah Prescott
Friendly Communities Officer, Time to Shine

(1) UK Poverty 2017 (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, December 2017)

(2) ‘No experience required’ - ageism in the job market (Patrick Thomson, Centre for Ageing Better, July 2019)

(3) Ageism: the youth perspective (Ageing Equal, October 2018)

(4) Lockdown could leave next generation of retirees poorer and sicker than the last (Centre for Ageing Better, June 2020)

(5) Rest Less

(6) More over 50s are claiming universal credit than under 25s… (This is Money, June 2020)

(7) More over 50s are claiming universal credit than under 25s… (This is Money, June 2020) (8) Turning coronavirus into a generational battle will harm people of all ages (Centre for Ageing Better, June 2020)

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