The New Deal for older people
Overall the British economy is stronger today, but, if we are to continue to increase prosperity and living standards, we have to make sure that we have the best possible use of the talents and energy of all the British people.
We can’t afford to waste potential. Human resources are the great natural resource of a country in the 21st Century.
It’s why when we came to power we introduced the New Deal for the young. It’s the most ambitious initiative in this country to tackle the scandal of youth unemployment.
And giving people, particularly young people the chance of real jobs and real training. Giving them that crucial first opportunity to show what they can do, helps everyone. Helps the economy, helps the young people and it reduces the high burdens of Social Security spending.
Thanks to the support of over 60,000 businesses, right across the country, the New Deal has helped cut long-term youth unemployment by over 60% in the last 3 years.
Real success can’t be measured in terms of statistics but in the individual stories of young people who have told me, wherever I travel in Britain, that the New Deal has helped transform their lives.
Or the stories from employers, who perhaps signed up to the New Deal because they wanted to do something to help, and found they had taken on a valued and indispensable new recruit to their workforce.
Because of its success, we have systematically extended the New Deal to include other groups who need special help including the long-term unemployed – and lone parents and disabled people who want to go back to work and perhaps just need that extra help to do so.
Employment prospects have been helped, too, by the stronger, more stable economy, jobless numbers fall to the lowest level for 20 years, there are 800,000 more people in work today than there were 3 years ago.
However, despite the record number of people in work and record number of vacancies, there remains one group who still face real barriers to finding work, the over 50s. They are a group who can find the door shut on them simply because of their age.
These barriers help explain why the proportion of older men in employment has fallen so dramatically over the last two decades – and the much smaller rise in the number of older women in work, compared to younger women.
If employment levels among this age group had remained the same as in 1951, there would be 1. 2 million people in jobs today who are presently out of work.
Now of course, some older people can’t work anymore and others, perhaps with early pensions, simply don’t want to.
But many more do. Many more would love to work but simply don’t get the chance to. I have heard too many stories from too many of my constituents in the North East not to understand the real despair that can be caused when people are desperate to work, feel its part of their dignity and don’t get the opportunity to.
It also means, for the country, the loss of the experience, enthusiasm, valuable skills, of that older and wiser head, that can work wonders for a firm and also give opportunities to older people.
So, it was to tackle this waste, that we piloted the New Deal for the Over-50s in nine areas across the country.
It’s proved so successful that already over 1,000 older people have moved off benefits and into work.
And it’s why, when I visited Wales on Thursday, I launched the New Deal for the Over-50s across the country.
Now, it’s a voluntary package of help, open to anyone over 50 or their partners out of work for more than six months.
And they are offered individual help from personal advisers, funding to update skills, and tax-free financial support – on top of wages to ensure a minimum take-home pay of £170 a week for those in full-time work.
And because the New Deal is tailored to each person it’s also flexible enough so that those who only want to go back to work part-time are helped as well.
The help they receive is geared to overcoming the skills and financial barriers preventing them rejoining the job market and stopping their talents being lost to firms and the economy.
It’s already been welcomed by employers as a way of releasing the potential of older workers. By improving skills, keeping people in the labour market and encouraging those outside it to enter again. We help employers by increasing the supply of experienced and talented people in the workforce.
And, with the new code of practice aimed at discouraging age discrimination in employment, it underlines our determination to ensure there are opportunities for all.
Many firms are already recognising the value older workers bring and are prospering because of them.
So, we promised when we came into office, we would govern for the whole country, whatever people’s age or background, whether for the so-called heartland areas or so-called middle Britain. And the New Deal for the over 50s is another example that we mean it.