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Older Women’s Employment

Volume 579: debated on Thursday 1 May 2014

Jobcentre Plus uses a range of innovative approaches to help older claimants. Local schemes include IT support aimed specifically at older people, dedicated advisers for those aged over 50, and help to convert dated qualifications into certifications that are relevant for modern employers. Overall female inactivity is now at a record low.

I am rather surprised by the Minister’s response, given that unemployment among older women has rocketed by more than 40% and the Work programme has failed more than 90% of women aged over 50. Her response was complacent. What more is she going to do?

I am disappointed by the hon. Lady’s question. More than 3.5 million women aged over 50 are in employment, which is more than 63% of that age group. Across the UK more women are in work than ever before. There has been additional support for older women. One example of the support that jobcentres are providing that has made a real difference is the new employment allowance that helps people to set up their own business. Nearly a quarter of those who have set up businesses using that allowance are over the age of 50 and it is proving particularly popular.

Women are revered in many societies for their knowledge and wisdom, but the first thing that comes up in a Google search for “employing older women” is In America, women will not stand for invisibility or marginalisation and have created OWL—the Older Women’s League—to fight for older women in public policy and the workplace. Does my hon. Friend believe that we should do the same in the UK?

The Government are in the process of appointing a business champion for older workers, and an announcement will be made in the next couple of months. That person will have a responsibility to ensure that older workers—in particular women, as the proposal came out of the recommendations of the Women’s Business Council—are taken more seriously by employers and have their skills and experience recognised. This may well be an issue that the champion would like to take up.

The Minister mentioned the older workers business champion, but that was promised over a year ago following a recommendation from the Women’s Business Council. Why have we had to wait for more than a year? The Minister said that the Government are looking at appointing such a champion, but is the year’s delay a result of older women not being a priority?

The Women’s Business Council made a wide range of important recommendations on how women interact in the economy from school age to leaving the work force, and the Government have been working carefully to ensure that we implement as many of them as possible. That element is now in track. The older workers business champion will be appointed shortly, and I hope that we will then see the next part of the process taken forward.