Older job seekers should be exempt from proposed benefit sanctions because jobcentres are failing to help them back to work, argues a report by charity Help the Aged and Age Concern.
Research conducted by the charity, which merged the two organisations on 1 April, highlighted serious concerns about the potential impact of benefit restrictions on those who cannot find work, outlined in the Welfare Reform Bill.
The bill will be debated in the House of Lords this week and the charity is calling on ministers to exempt the over-50s from reform until adequate support is available.
Over the past year‚ unemployment has risen by nearly half among the over-50s‚ faster than any other age group, according to Office for National Statistics figures.
Obstacles to work
At the same time, focus group interviews with 54 benefits claimants by the charity revealed a number of areas where Jobcentre Plus was hindering this age group in their efforts to find work.
These included failure to systematically offer schemes specifically designed for them, such as New Deal 50+; impersonal, computerised job searches, a lack of appreciation among advisers of older workers’ experience, instead pushing them towards low paid jobs; and advisers withholding training opportunities because of their age.
Lack of support
Michelle Mitchell, charity director for Age Concern and Help the Aged said: “Thousands of 50-plus job seekers around the country are doing all they can to get back to work but are frustrated at the lack of support they are receiving from Jobcentre Plus.
“The threat of benefit sanctions will drive fear into the hearts of people who are battling to find work against a harsh economic climate, as well as ageist attitudes. Instead of providing constructive help for people, these reforms will simply push more people into poverty at a time when they most need help.
“Before they start imposing sanctions, Age Concern and Help the Aged is calling on the government to ensure the right support is in place to give people a real chance to get back into work. Until this is done, a major plank of the government’s Welfare Reform Bill will simply fail.”