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Day trip to Oxford Brookes Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice

Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending the day with researchers from the Centre of Diversity Policy Research and Practice at Oxford Brookes.  Along with PhD Students from Birkbeck, Paula and Christine, we had a great opportunity to discuss our research and enjoy a lovely tapas lunch!  Later in the day, I then presented something of whistle-stop tour of my research, including a summary of key findings from age at work – including our recent paper in Organization Studies and forthcoming paper in Gender Work and Organization.  It was very useful to debate the challenges of online research and of using visual images.  Lots of more ideas generated – if only we had the time to follow them all up.

Many thanks to Karen Handley for organising and to everyone who attended the different parts of the day for the very useful discussion and feedback.  We look forward to meeting up again and progressing the discussions in the future!

(A copy of the seminar presentation will follow)

A battle of the champions ahead? Miriam O’Reilly vs. Ros Altmann

Recently the press reported that the current Government’s ‘Older worker champion’, Ros Altmann would be made a Tory peer and appointed Minister for consumer protection if the Conservatives win the forthcoming election.  It seems that this would involve specific responsibility for looking at how the new pension freedom is playing out in the market place and reducing ageism in the mortgage market.  Ros sets out her own ‘manifesto’ in the Yorkshire Post. Interestingly the BBC also reports that “Altmann was also an advisor to former Prime Minister Tony Blair”.

However, Labour have gone with a new advisor this time around: Miriam O’Reilly announcing that she will be their ‘Independent Commissioner for Older People’ if they form the next Government, which forms part of their manifesto for older people, details of which will be made available later today.

So how do the champions stack up? Who do you think will be most effective?  And is it time other age groups had a champion too?

Latest survey on employee benefits shows age and gender differences

The results of PWC’s latest survey on workplace benefits has highlighted age and gender differences in preferences for employee benefits.  Rather stereotypically the results suggest a male preference for company cars and a female preference for child care.  PWC also highlight in respect to age that “The survey also suggests that employees starting out in their careers are more likely to be willing to take risks with their pay and are more attracted to the upside of variable remuneration”.  Labeling these ‘Generation y’ the results suggest that these individuals are willing to trade ‘salary’ for the potential of performance related bonus:

“Asked to swap £1,000 of their salary for the opportunity to receive a performance-related bonus of £5,000, more than a third of respondents aged under 20 agreed (36%) compared to an average across all ages of nearly half that level (20%) and 18% of those aged 40 to 59.”

PWC also report that younger respondents were more likely to highlight a preference for workplace training and company cars (though whether this still reflected a gender split is not reported).  It is also not clear how the options which were presented for respondents to select were identified, though the impact of occupation is also noted by PWC. of course other issues could also be at play here.  Perhaps those who have been working longer are more skeptical of the way in which different benefits are calculated whereas those newer to working roles may be more optimistic about the transparency of benefit schemes.

Labour’s manifesto for young people

Just before our recent ‘blog break’ I posted some initial observations about age and the general election.  At the end of last week, the Labour Party followed up with their early promises to younger voters about tuition fees with a specific section within their manifesto aimed at ‘young people’.  As expected, this continues to build on the education focus but also includes promises of a guaranteed job for young people who have been out of work for a year – though there is no specification of what ‘young’ might mean in this instance.  Not addressed here but discussed elsewhere is the related pledge to end long term unpaid internships, which is also commonly perceived as particularly impacting younger people.

Presenting a manifesto in this way has the dual effect of both selling a particular message to younger voters but also to their parents, the presentation is very careful not to pitch the needs younger age group against, for example, older workers.  Other parties have however not missed out on this trick with the BBC reporting that the phrase ‘young people’ appears 20 times in the Conservative manifesto.

BBC’s news beat recently conducted a survey of 16-24 year olds to find out what issues were of most interest to young people and how these compared to the overall priorities of the general population.  When asked to rank issues, unsurprisingly education ranks more highly among young people, but the top rated priority was the NHS, the same as for the general population.

“Too old to learn?”: Mixed messages about learning and training in mid / later life

The Daily Mail here features an article about a new report, commissioned by the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT), which highlights the challenges faced by some older workers in a changing economy where there are no ‘jobs for life’. One of the reported findings is that they risk long-term unemployment because training is ‘heavily-geared’ towards young people. One of the main reasons cited by the over 55s cohort for not undertaking a qualification is a perception that they are too old to learn new skills (15%).

A copy of the report which was produced by Cebr, an independent economics and business research consultancy, can be downloaded via this link. In terms of methodology, Cebr look to have analysed existing datasets from e.g. ONS and Eurostat as well as survey results from some YouGov polls but I couldn’t find any further details so the usual methodological warning applies to the reported findings. We should point out that AAT is a provider of skills training and one of the conclusions of the report is that there needs to be more skills training – as well as featuring case studies of older workers who have successfully re-skilled via AAT training courses.

That aside, the report suggests particular combinations of age, gender and industry sector should be targeted for training on the grounds that they are highly vulnerable to job losses, specifically:

  • Older men in the mining & quarrying, manufacturing, and agriculture industries and parts of the craft and related trades (such as printing, wood working, metal workers) and plant and machine occupations
  • Older women in the public sector and clerical administrative occupations

Other recommendations are designed to promote lifelong learning:

  • Focus on how to change the ‘too old to learn’ mentality of the 55-64 year old age group and understanding of the contribution technological skills could make to their current job.
  • Provide training targeted at the 55-64 year old age group.
  • Offer more vocational training for the 55-64 age group.
  • Ensure that opportunities are available to fit in with full and part time work patterns.
  • Encourage employers to ensure that their older staff members participate in training and undertake career development activities.
But some recent developments are particularly unhelpful here. As we reported in this post before Easter, Government consultations on post-graduate loans proposed an age 30 cut-off. These kind of arbitrary age-based restrictions are one of the ways in which age norms about learning and training become reinforced (‘it’s for young people’). And, as commented on here in The Guardian, the Government has also announced 24% cuts to the adult education / lifelong learning budget in England for next year. According to that piece, the adult skills budget, which funds non-academic (university-based) education and training for those 19 or over, has been cut by a 40% since 2010.  All of which sends some very mixed messages about training and learning, not just for those in mid and later life, but across the adult lifespan.

“Granny Leave”: Gendering childcare assumptions across the lifespan?

Back to the election (hard to ecape from) and a look at an age at work related announcement from Labour (reported here in the Daily Mail) that they would introduce a new legal right to ‘granny leave’. This would allow working grandparents to take time off – up to four unpaid weeks per year – to help care for their grandchildren.

The proposed scheme is part of Labour’s ‘women’s manifesto’ (do women need their own manifesto?) and would require a change in the law to take effect. The reported rationale is that currently over 50% of mothers rely on grandparents for childcare when they first go back to work after maternity leave, and two-thirds of grandparents with grandchildren aged under 16 provide some childcare.

The article cites research (unspecified) suggesting that nearly 2 million grandparents give up jobs, reduce working hours, or take time off work to look after their grandchildren. It anticipates a backlash from some business leaders, who will have to bear the costs of absences. A bit like the reaction to the Tory proposal of allowing staff to have 3 days unpaid leave a year to ‘volunteer’.

Moreover, although the references are to grandparents (ungendered), the announcement of this as part of Labour’s women’s manifesto frames childcare as a women’s issue. This is reinforced in this piece by positioning ‘mothers’ as being reliant on grandparents for childcare in the first place (aren’t men reliant too?) and by the assumption of which gender of grandparent is going to be taking time off (‘grannies’ as the Daily Mail headline helpfully points out). This rather depressingly perpetuates the assumptions and effects of parenthood on women’s working lives across the lifespan to all age groups.

Ageing mercenaries: What work for ‘paramilitary leftovers’ of the apartheid regime?

Never let it be said that we don’t cover a wide range of age at work issues. Today we look at this piece in The Guardian which examines what has happened to the ageing white ‘paramilitary leftovers’ of South Africa’s apartheid regime.

It reports that once South Africa no longer needed these battle-hardened soldiers, they were unable to pursue the only role they were trained for and were unable to find alternative work. Feeling apparently alienated under a black government and in need of an income, they pursued private wars as mercenaries (military contractors is the polite term) to put bread on the table. (As a footnote, about 1,500 South African mercenaries were employed at its peak by Executive Outcomes, a mercenary outfit set up by Simon Mann in 1993 which made a fortune protecting oil installations from rebels in Angola’s civil war). Jakkie Cilliers, executive director of the Institute for Security Studies is quoted as saying: ‘This is the only skill these guys have. Most of them are in their late 50s or early 60s and trying to make a late bit of income before they’re past it. In five years’ time it won’t be an issue’.

The article also highlights the sense of grievance and resentment felt by these men who see South Africa as loaded against them, even though statistics consistently show that the white minority still enjoys disproportionate access to education, jobs and wealth. From an age at work perspective, it’s interesting to note the observation by a pilot who used to work for Mann that ‘These guys are in their 50s, but for a pilot or tank driver it doesn’t really matter‘. This contrasts with other stories about age at work that we’ve reported involving civilian airlines and the regular armed forces, suggesting mercenary outfits may operate as a kind of black market for some ageing paramilitaries.

Financial Ombudsman Service upholds first age-related complaint

The Mortgage Solutions website yesterday reported what is described as the first instance of an age-related complaint being upheld by the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS). HSBC was rebuked for its age discrimination in turning down the mortgage application of a couple where one of them would be over 65 at the end of the term. They  were in their forties and had applied for a joint £250,000 interest-only mortgage and planned to repay over an 18-year term. When their application was rejected, they made an official complaint to FOS.

The ombudsman reprimanded the bank and described its decision process as “inadequate” and “flawed“. The ruling stated that “The bank relied on untested assumptions, stereotypes or generalisations in respect of age.

The story was also covered here in The Sunday Times which also claims this as a victory for its ‘Play Fair on Age’ campaign, which highlights instances where customers are told they are too old to borrow as a result of ‘tough new rules’ (not sure exactly what it means by this).

We’ve covered this topic on the blog before, making the point that longer working lives and the disappearance of ‘jobs for life’ means greater flexibility is required about where we live if we are going to be able to compete at all ages in the labour market. This in turn means having the ability to take out new financial products like mortgages.

Is age the great new divide? Let’s not forget class

This is the question posed in this article in yesterday’s Observer, in fact taking us back to the topic we looked at just before our Easter break, namely a focus on age in relation to the general election. In common with other more general pieces on age and work, ‘baby boomers’ are singled out for comparison with other age groups. None of these other age groups are here clearly defined; indeed the full title of the article is ‘Baby boomers v the rest’.

Here older voters are initially positioned as having reaped the benefits of the welfare state and the housing market, as well as now being able to spend their pension pots and pass on what’s left without paying any inheritance tax when they die. David Willet’s book The Pinch, which argued that baby boomers enjoy these benefits at the direct expense of younger generations, is said to have paved the way for a new discourse about intergenerational conflict.

The rest of the piece is a more considered analysis of both the housing and the labour market and considers aspects of intergenerational solidarity.  Some of the interesting observations:

  • Far from generation replacing class as a divide, age accentuates the importance of class, as better-off baby boomers pass on wealth and connections to children and grandchildren.
  • The term ‘lost generation’ may be used to describe young people but many aren’t lost at all, having tremendous job prospects.
  • Higher employment rates for older workers reflects the drive to encourage older people to work longer as life expectancy increases, which economists agree is critical to the long-term stability of the country.
  • The labour market has failed to respond to long-term structural and social shifts, particularly around the creation of better quality jobs (for all ages).

It ends with a comment on how politics has thus far failed to respond to some of the big sociological trends (e.g. the demands for an affordable care sector which is not dominated by low quality poorly paid jobs – or indeed by poor quality care) and how this affects all ages. With the launch of the manifestos this week, it’ll be interesting to see how (or if) these are addressed by the various political parties.

Age and the general election

In our last blog post for a while we take a brief look at the headlines around age in relation to the forthcoming general election.

Age UK provide extensive coverage on their website on ‘Why the Election Matters to Older People’ suggesting that voters ask their candidate to become an ‘age champion’.  Key issues highlighted on the website relate to issues of poverty, loneliness and care for older people. I was interested to see that pensions don’t occupy the headline slots, though are of course implicated in other issues.

There has of course been much coverage of various promises made by different parties, with the conservatives in particular being seen a wooing to the older vote.  However the Telegraph report that Cameron was recently heckled at an Age UK event – so perhaps that is not going exactly to plan.  In contrast Labour have been positioned as trying to capture the attention of younger voters, particularly in respect to promises to cut university tuition fees.  The independent highlights recent research which suggests UKIP supporters are generally over 55 (and white). The article supported this and other analysis of the recent UK social attitude survey with pictures of Lego characters to represent different electoral tribes.  As with all the discussion about who one the latest debate and which direction the polls are moving in, the interesting analysis will of course take place after the vote, particularly when we see whether the promised policies to whatever group are going to be implemented.

Age at Work are taking a well earned ‘blog break’ and will be back on 13th April!


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