22.12.09

Scrooge's Response to White Paper Christmas Gifts

I see that the e-Christmas cards are landing in abundance. From an environmental point of view this should please me no end. I especially like the ones which carry a message of substance.

I mention one from TAEN member Nick Wilson, who takes the opportunity to remind readers of the good things in the Government’s Christmas hamper. He refers of course to last week’s White Paper, Building Britain’s Future: Achieving Full Employment.

The list of goodies is inviting. In the spirit of spreading the Christmas cheer I will lay the table now:

  • Additional time and training for Jobcentre Plus advisers on issues facing older jobseekers.
  •  New specialist back-to-work support for the over 50s.
  • Widening access to work trials for the over 50s.
  • Discretion for Jobcentre Plus advisers to fast track over 50s to support normally available only after 6 months unemployment.
  • More help for professionals.
  • More help to become self-employed, including access to the Self-Employment Credit from three months into claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance.
  • Training tailored to people on out-of-work benefits.
  • Encouraging more flexible working and better employment practices.
  • A new National Guidance Initiative to help employers create new job opportunities for older workers.

Adopting a scrooge-like “Bah humbug!” scepticism as a critical tool, readers should look at the contents on the lid before gobbling this lot with the Christmas nuts. The results of my own begrudging nit picking are as follows:

The additional time and training for Jobcentre Plus advisers is explicitly aimed at helping them to be more effective in building rapport with older workers. Since it is absolutely what TAEN has been asking for over many years, it is hard to complain!

However, we need to know more about what form this training will take. Who will deliver it and will the existing knowledge and skills available be used? TAEN’s seminal research report, Challenging Age, which did so much to uncover the guidance needs of older job seekers, might be a useful starting point.

The new specialist back to work support for over 50s looks promising. The text is worth repeating here:

Jobcentre Plus advisers will refer those over-50s who need extra support to external providers for short courses tailored to address the specific needs of older job seekers. They will, for example, explore how the over-50s can best maximise their experience when searching for jobs….”

There are short courses and short courses. How good these will be in practice will depend on the experience and knowledge of those delivering them. Basing them around groups of ‘fellow sufferers’ sounds a bit like the job club concept, of which TAEN has often extolled the virtues.

Scrooge finds himself giving muted approval as the wrapping paper on this one is tossed into the corner.

In the White Paper the Government now recognises the value of work trials for older workers. TAEN has seen the sense in this for some time, so again, we can hardly criticise.

The White Paper says that work trials may begin from the start of claiming JSA. For older workers wanting to break into new roles this could offer opportunities and will be a development to watch.

Waiting around for six months before getting specialist advice is very bad news for the older job seeker. Hence the discretionary fast tracking suggested in the white paper could be useful. It should be noted, it will depend on Jobcentre Plus advisers making the option visible and available.

If all who need receive, this will be progress. Clearly the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. (Perhaps our response should be “Line up for the plum duff everyone - and make sure you ask for more!”)

Older people have often found that self employment is a good way of keeping in work and does not involve overcoming age prejudices just to get one’s toe in the door. It is not for everyone however, and for those who have never tried it before there are definitely new skill sets to learn quickly.

So the idea of training could be helpful. (Ask TAEN member Hilary Farnworth, who runs such courses (mainly for older people and women) at the Centre for Micro Enterprise at London Metropolitan University. 

Jobcentre Plus have been falling down on the job of providing help for professionals and qualified people,  according to responses to TAEN’s Survey of Jobseekers Aged 50+.   

Now a one day workshop has been started up precisely for this group and is shortly to be followed by additional help for unemployed professionals. This too is a useful development. (Scrooge is feeling desperate!)

The one section of the White Paper which looks somewhat at odds with the foregoing is the section which deals with developing flexible working approaches. It seems to have moved to a different mind set as though the effort of thinking around the needs of older workers could not be sustained for ever.

This is evident when it talks of flexibility, equated strictly with ‘family friendly policies’. Yes, of course the family connection applies, but for anyone considering delaying retirement, reducing working time or working different hours may be more to do with caring for one’s self than someone else, and why can’t we admit it?  

It follows that flexibility is an unmitigated ‘good’ for the older workforce and the right to ask for it should be extended accordingly.

Scrooge is sad to report that this leaves us with appallingly little to complain about! He expects his own Christmas to be thoroughly miserable, but suspects some poor misguided older workers will be tempted to unseemly rejoicing at the Government’s offerings.

After all that I can hardly bring myself to say it - but Happy Christmas everyone and I will be back in the New Year.