Muted celebrations

Glenys ThorntonGlenys Thornton on the impact on older women of Osborne's austerity agenda

So much for Cameron needing to appeal to women.

Even older women, who might have previously voted Conservative are feeling more than their fair share of the austerity agenda. I have decided therefore, to celebrate my 60th birthday by asking the government to explain how they intend to help older women who are facing a disproportionately dreadful effect of George Osborne’s austerity programme.

Unemployment amongst women in the 50 to 64 age group has rocketed by more than 27% over the last year and there are now more unemployed women in this age group than since records began.

It is a cause for celebration that this is the group of women who have been most successful at breaking into the labour market since the mid 1990’s, but also a cause of serious concern that they are the most vulnerable in the workforce. They are often supporting both children and elderly or disabled parents, work part-time to have flexibility, are low paid and who are in jobs in the public sector – and thereby the people who are at most vulnerable to the Chancellor’s austerity agenda. Women aged over 55 are much more likely to be working on insecure temporary contracts than men of the same age.

Everyone knows that older workers who lose their jobs are likely to stay unemployed for longer. 41.3% of those aged over 50 who are unemployed have been out of work for over 12 months compared to 33.8% for the UK as a whole.

A key issue for this age group is making ends meet.

The 50+ age group generally expect to work until retirement. There are more single older women than men, who have to continue working but their pay has not kept up with men’s and they may want to work flexibly or to change from physically demanding work to something less taxing. Many are facing the economic shock of delayed pensions, in addition to already being at a significant disadvantage in terms of pension provision – the median pension saving of a 56 year old woman is just £9,100. That is almost six times lower than that of a man, which stands at £52,800.

What is the government going to do about the hard pressed squeezed older women?

Baroness Glenys Thornton is Labour’s Shadow Equalities Minister in the Lords

Published 16th October 2012

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