The wrong kind of old
June 26, 2012
Yesterday’s speech by the prime minister continued neatly on from the speech by Iain Duncan Smith two weeks ago. The same tone, the same narrative, and even some of the same clangers (cf the ‘poverty plus a £’ myth).
It combined a focus on the need to drive down the welfare bill with a commitment to protecting every penny of welfare spent on pensioners, something that’s quite tricky to do because of this:
So benefits for older people are sacrosanct because ‘I made a promise to the older people of this country and I’m going to keep it’, and the (relatively speaking very small) bill for working age welfare needs to shrink, even if it means saying young people can’t get benefits until their mid 20s.
But what if you are the wrong kind of old?
Between the story about the workshy working age and the hardworking pensioner that earned every penny of their pension/winter fuel payment/bus pass, there is a group of people that policymakers and commentators are conspicuously silent about.
Over the last ten years, we’ve seen significant progress in reducing pensioner poverty. But poverty rates among people aged 55-65 have remained stubbornly high at 18%.
And as every release of unemployment statistics is accompanied by agonised commentary about the high level of youth unemployment and the number of Neets (young people not in employment, education or training), nobody seems concerned about older unemployed people, the topic of an excellent report published last week by Policy Exchange, which found that ‘at the end of 2011 there were 189,000 over-50s who had been out of work for a year’. In fact, 43% of unemployed people over the age of 50 are long-term unemployed, compared to only 26% of 18-24 year olds.
We should be very concerned. Our economy is missing out on much needed skills and experience, something that will only become more of a challenge as our society and our workforce ages. Meanwhile, these men and women are left to get poorer and sicker, hanging on for a retirement age that slips further into the distance.
So if the prime minister really means it when he says that ‘no one is a write off’ its here, with the older Neets that he should make a start.