The DWP is now targeting unemployed over-50s

A ripped brow envelope representing benefits like PIP for terminally ill people and the DWP logo
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The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has snuck out new funding for social security claimants. It’s also changing part of what the department expects of people over the age of 50. Some of this could include sanctioning claimants if they don’t comply. But, the move is little more than a knee-jerk response to a labour market crisis. The whole thing is likely a mess in the making, partly thanks to the DWP.

DWP: ‘supporting’ older people via sanctions

On Monday 4 July the DWP announced it was ‘investing’ £22m to ‘tackle unemployment’ among the over-50s. It said it was spending this on:

  • “More one-to-one support at jobcentres”.
  • Dedicated “50PLUS Champions” to “work with local employers to help them realise how their recruitment could benefit from the talent of older workers”.
  • “Mid-life MOTs… targeting those thinking about retirement… to take stock of their skills and finances, and consider taking jobs that could boost their incomes”.

It’s important to note that the 50PLUS Champions (formerly called “Older Claimant Champions” and Mid-life MOTs are not new. These were policies the DWP brought in in 2017 and 2019 respectively.

The DWP is also pushing its Restart Scheme as part of this package. This is where the DWP is contracting private and third sector providers to give 12-month employment support packages for some claimants. But as the Guardian reported, so far it has been an abject failure. 93% of people on the scheme have failed to find work. Yet within this, the DWP is allowed to sanction claimants for non-compliance with the scheme. It would also be able to do this for the over-50s who will receive its increased “one-to-one support at jobcentres”.

A “huge asset”

Despite this, employment minister Mims Davis said of the plan for the over-50s:

Older workers are a huge asset to this country, and there are currently more than 400,000 over 50s in roles than before the pandemic.

We’re increasing funding and support at every step of their journey up the career ladder, to ensure everyone gets the support they need to get into work, progress and use their experience to boost their earnings and plan for a better future. Helping people find the security of a stable income, through a job they can take pride in, is also one of the best ways for people to support their families during these challenging times.

Read on...

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Of course, the reality is that the DWP’s new plan is less about supporting people and more about a crisis in the UK labour market.

A labour market crisis for the government

Economic inactivity is where a person is neither in work or looking for a job. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found, the rate of this among 50-69-year-olds increased during the pandemic. It also noted that:

43% of the overall rise in economic inactivity in the UK population since the pandemic began has been driven by changes among 50- to 69-year-olds.

So, more older people are retired or not working. Also, employment rates are still lower than before the pandemic. So, the government faces a problem – because less people in work means less disposable income and less tax revenue.

Then, there is the issue of young people’s employment. As a parliament research paper noted, youth unemployment is at its lowest level for decades. But;

it is worth noting that the total population aged 16-24 increased slightly in the year to February-April 2022, but overall it has been declining in recent years.

So at one end of the scale you have less young people to work. And at the other end you have more older people not wanting to work. But what of the future?

Falling birth rates/failing capitalism

The government is also facing a future working population problem. In 2020, birth rates fell to their lowest level since before WWII. This is a decline that has been ongoing since 2013. But as The Canary reported, the drop isn’t balanced. Between 2013 and 2016, birth rates for the richest people actually increased – while they fell for the poorest people.

Then, between 2017 and 2019 birth rates across all social grades fell. But the biggest declines were for the poorest people. As The Canary reported, this was coupled with an increase in abortions for the poorest people – most notably those with two or more children. It is possible that all this is directly linked to the DWP’s own two-child limit policy on social security payments.

The point being overall that the UK is currently an aging population – with the DWP potentially making it worse via its own policies. This in turn is leading to a crisis for capitalism. As Aaron Bastani wrote for Novara Media:

Capitalism, a system based on permanent growth and profit, can’t sit alongside societies increasingly marked by demographic ageing. Necessary returns on investment require decent-sized working age populations and a ceiling on ‘dependents’.

DWP: work until you drop

So, the DWP’s response to this is to try and push more older people into work. Not only is this amoral – given many of these people may be chronically ill, disabled, or thinking they’d be retiring in their 60s – but it’s also a sticking plaster on a broken leg.

Instead of forcing more people into work to try and plug a systemic leak, politicians should be looking at the way we all work to adapt to our changing population – for example, a four-day working week and a real living wage. But instead, the DWP (whose policies may lead to an even greater crisis in the future) is crudely trying to fix this. As always, it’s the poorest people who will be hit the hardest, due to capitalism’s failings.

Featured image via The Canary and Wikimedia 

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  • Show Comments
    1. “So, more older people are retired or not working. Also, employment rates are still lower than before the pandemic. So, the government faces a problem – because less people in work means less disposable income and less tax revenue.”
      The govt doesn’t need to tax to spend. What we use for money is govt IOUs, hence the I Promise to Pay the Bearer phrase. It originates, as you might imagine being IOUs, with the issuer, the govt. Thus the govt is both the issuer and a user of currency, a position the rest of us can’t aspire to. No comparison with any household finances then, incidentally. I’d think myself this latest drive is just another pathetic attempt by the DWP to appear ‘hard’, as if they’re actually doing something positive when, in reality, there’s very little they can do.

      1. That would be nice if it were true. Sadly, MMT is new clothing on old, discredited ideas. Inflation is the consequence of issuing cash beyond a government’s income, as Stephanie Kelton and her followers admitted but dismissed. MMT is not a socialist solution, merely a rearrangement of accounting practices.

    2. I’m 65 and due to retire in Oct this year.
      I’ve been on JSA since 2018. A new experience for me. So signed on knowing nothing about how the system works. In a nutshell I had a workcoach that knew next to nothing. I felt like I was just going in every 2 weeks to sign my name.
      I enquired several times about Universal Credit and was told each time that you had to wait until you were told you were being transferred over. I was looking for work myself but was finding my age and lack of computer skills were against me.
      Then Covid hit in 2020. That was no ones fault but all through the pandemic I just got the fortnightly phone call in lieu of signing on. During that time I was diagnosed with arthritis in the spine and a slipped vertebrae….painful. Doctor said he would give me a fit note but I refused because I wanted to work and was looking for employment in a job where I could sit down ie: phone work…telemarketing….anything. Job Centre told me my computer skills weren’t up to it. I also missed out on the Gov £20 pet week assistance because I was still on JSA. Never was I told I could transfer myself over.
      In 2021 I was passed over to the Shaw Trust scheme. Got a fortnightly phone call from them. Initially they were helpful.
      They compiled a new cv and discussed work opportunities. Then gradually the phone calls from them became fewer and fewer. I had a time and day for the calls but often I never received one. I had, at this point, another work coach who didn’t appear to know much. Then on one phone signing with JSA I received a call from a different workcoach as mine was off sick. Long story short, this workcoach had been in the job for years.
      I had a 30min conversation with her and got more help and information in that one 30min call than I’d ever had previously. I told her this and she said the younger staff don’t have the experience. It’s a complicated system and the longer you work here, the more you learn.
      Make of that what you will.

      Bottom line is I’m still unemployed and looking for work. I want to work even after I get my pension but it’s not looking hopeful. The whole system is too complicated and it seems to me the newer staff just don’t have the experience.

      1. I have a similar experience on Restart which is outsourced to a private company (they’re always more efficient, didn’t you know?) but my work coach is very young and lacks knowledge and understanding of much at all.

    3. The DWP are nothing more than a weapon to beat the poor.
      We all thought that ageism was supposed to be outlawed but its alive and kicking as I have witnessed many times. Regardless the constant harassment by government continues.

    4. DWP take the UNsure hands from us and gather all young people or students to go for work in warehouses, cleaning and where more is needed. We did in our youth.
      Young people are there in large number, but all of them wants to work in offices or to work less for more money. We have worked enough in our youth. But:
      if DWP want us in work, it would be fair for us (over 50) to work only 30-40 hrs/week with more increased wage because most of us we have families grandchildren whom depend on our help.
      So if you solve that people over 50 to get increased wages, of course whom are not sick, you know although is not easy, maybe we can go further.
      DWP to take action FIRST OF ALL to gather YOUNG unemployed people there in a large number, and after if they find some healthy older people may they can work part-time, but how I told the wage to be more raised. We deserve, because we worked at OUR TIME !!!

    5. I work for the DWP and have to work until I am 67 before I can retire.
      I have a number of health issues but still work full time on the front line.
      Claimants aged 50+ are the hardest to help, they are rude, don’t listen, don’t want to improve their skills, particularly I.T. skills, won’t work for minimum wage ( yet are happy to live on benefits) and have chips the size of boulders on their shoulders.
      Thankfully, I now work with the 18-24 age group, who are a different breed altogether.
      Being in my mid-fifties, the behaviour of the 50+ age group claimants left me shocked, disgusted and often shaken. I have never met a more “entitled” group of people and pray I never have to be a work coach for that age group again.
      People who work in job centres are people who want to help you. Sanctions are a “last resort” only used when a claimant refuses to participate or carry out their agreed and accepted claimant commitment.
      Stop demonising work coaches and look in the mirror!

      1. “won’t work for minimum wage”: would you, Ms Melia? It’s not enough to live on.

        Your personal experiences are anecdotes, not data. You seem to have no understanding of the backgrounds and needs of older people who in many cases are supporting families, often of some size. Older people who have spent decades being exploited in a capitalist society have good reasons to feel entitled to being treated equitably. It is perhaps likely that younger people are more desperate, less aware of their rights and don’t have families to support. I suggest you might need to improve your skills. Are you willing to do so?

      2. The DWP is still being investigated for causing so many unnecessary deaths, Ms Melia you should be ashamed working for a government that systematically abuses people claiming benefits, one day you may need to claim benefits and I hope you get the same level of abuse that you deserve.

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