Responding to an ageing workforce: Experiences of 50+ jobseekers

Abolition of the default retirement age and a rise in state pension age are expected to lead to longer working lives. Three additional support mechanisms for jobseekers aged over 50 were introduced in April 2010 through Jobcentre Plus. A report by the Department for Work and Pensions on the experience of 50+ jobseekers who had been offered this support revealed strong demand for and a positive response to these specific measures but questioned their effectiveness.

Introduction

The abolition of the default retirement age of 65 (UK1008019I) and the rise in the state pension age to 66 means that people in the UK are expected to have longer working lives. These changes, coupled with the current recession, mean that Jobcentre Plus (a government-funded scheme that offers individual jobseekers one-to-one support and training tailored to their needs) anticipates increasing uptake of its services by older customers.

In April 2010, extra support was introduced to help people stay in work for longer and assist older job seekers to return to work. Three enhanced measures were launched:

  • an additional 30 minutes with advisors for jobseekers with age-related support needs after 13 weeks of receiving Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA);
  • optional early entry or fast tracking to the Jobseekers Regime and Flexible New Deal (JRFND) Stage 3 (usually available after more than six months of claims) when more intensive support from Jobcentre Plus advisers is available;
  • immediate access to work trials from day one of a JSA claim (work trials enable jobseekers to work in a company where there is a vacancy, and usually try a job which they have never done before, while still receiving benefits).

In August 2011, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) published findings from qualitative research into enhanced Jobseeker’s Allowance provision for the 50+ (653Kb PDF). The research was conducted between October and December 2010 through 100 in-depth interviews with:

  • five policy staff at DWP;
  • 35 Jobcentre Plus advisers across the UK;
  • 60 Jobcentre Plus customers claiming JSA who were aged 50 or above and had experienced at least one of the enhanced measures.

Key findings

The report shows mixed experiences of the 50+ measures by customers. The provision of additional time with advisors was strongly welcomed. But despite the positive reception to this aspect of the measures, customers found it difficult to distinguish between what was offered during the extra time and the service already provided by Jobcentre Plus. In practice, the designated 50+ extra interviews were used to conduct review meetings under the JRFND process or for local initiatives aimed at all customers, not just 50+ jobseekers. The study carried out for the report revealed that the overall effect was to ‘blur’ any distinction between the regular provision of time with advisors and the additional time provided for 50+ jobseekers.

A second measure targeted at the over 50s offers early entry or fast-tracking to Stage 3 of JRFND, which provides extra time with an advisor to support the customer’s job search. The research revealed a low level of uptake for this measure with the exception of customers with health issues who were referred to a Disability Employment Advisor (DEA) or those who were pursuing self-employment and access to the New Enterprise Allowance (a mentor and financial support to help set up a business). A minority of customers, who had neither health issues nor an interest in becoming self-employed, took steps to become fast tracked in order to speed up their job search activity. The report found that the latter group were least satisfied with the fast-tracking initiative because their expectations of extra support were disappointed by the ‘very limited extra help’ they received under fast-tracking.

Access to work trials is, under conventional JRFND arrangements, available after six months of a JSA claim. For the 50+ this measure was enhanced to provide work trials from day one of a claim. The report showed that most of the customers interviewed had experienced work trials, but only a third had done so within six months of making a claim. Thus, two-thirds of customers aged 50+ in the study would have received the same access under standard arrangements. The key benefits of work trials identified by the 50+ customers include:

  • the chance to prove oneself capable of doing a job;
  • the chance to see if employee and employer could ‘get on’;
  • a low-risk return to JSA if the trial did not work out.

Of the three measures made available to 50+ customers, work trials were received most positively. This was attributed to a perceived direct link to a job for customers, the chance for advisors to advocate their customers’ employment with employers and the boost the trials could give to self-confidence.

Commentary

The DWP report shows a positive reception by customers to three initiatives targeted at 50+ jobseekers. However, it reveals that most of the arrangements for 50+ jobseekers are provided under existing frameworks, blurring any distinction between existing and extended measures. Customers responded most positively to work trials they offered a direct link to the world of work.

Reference

Thomas, A. and Pemberton, A. (2011), Qualitative research into enhanced Jobseeker’s Allowance provision for the 50+ (653Kb PDF), Department for Work and Pensions Research Report No. 766, DWP, London.

Alex Wilson, IRRU, University of Warwick

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