OLDER women are “overlooked for promotion, subject to harassment and more likely to be unemployed” in Scotland, according to the head of a new commission launched by Labour.
There are now growing concerns this group is becoming the “forgotten generation” of Scottish society, having to work far longer than their own mothers ever did and struggling to find jobs.
The Commission on Older Women will focus on the issues facing older women at work, and how to tackle the thousands of older women who find themselves out of work with little support to re-enter the labour market. It will also consider how the burden of caring for older relatives is impacting on this generation of older women.
Morag Alexander, a former board member of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, will co-chair it.
She said: “Older women still have so much to offer that can benefit the Scottish economy – but they are overlooked for promotion by employers, subject to harassment at work and are much more likely to be unemployed than men of a similar age or younger women.
“Over the next year, I want this commission to get to the bottom of these challenges.”
Unemployment among older women has risen while it has been falling in the general population, analysis by Labour has shown.
More than 13,000 women between the ages of 50 and 64 in Scotland are currently unemployed, up 30 per cent since 2010. Over the same period, unemployment of men between 50 and 64 has decreased by 23 per cent.
Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran said: “There is clearly a problem that needs to be addressed.
“These women cannot become a forgotten generation in Scotland – politicians of all parties need to be paying attention to them.”
The commission will work at arm’s length from the party and produce an overview report this spring and a final report ahead of next year’s Holyrood elections.
Tom Berney, who chairs the Scottish Older People’s Assembly, said: “We need to celebrate the longevity dividend that increasing life expectancy brings and recognise the huge savings made by the caring role carried out by older people, very often women.
“At the same time we are a country of declining standards as wages, pensions and working conditions are being depressed. Even the new retirement pension is pitched below the national poverty level. All this is bound to impact on older people.”
But Sarah Glynn, secretary of the Scottish Unemployed Workers Network, said: “Attempts to label one age group or gender as specifically ‘forgotten’ are generally unhelpful and divisive. Austerity economics affects the poor across the board.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said that supporting women of all ages into work is a “key priority”. Female employment is now at a record high in Scotland and older workers accounted for 55 per cent of the hike in employment last year.
But she said: “These figures do not take account of the significant contribution women make through unpaid work, through caring or volunteering, for example – something not picked up in employment statistics, but hugely important to Scottish society.”
Checkout girl Janet, 73, won’t stop working
Janet truesdale was 65 when she started working with B&Q in Kilmarnock. Eight years later, she is still with the DIY giant, working on the checkout counter.
The 73-year-old says other firms are “missing a trick” by not taking advantage of the wealth of experience which older staff can bring to the job.
Originally from London, Mrs Truesdale is married to James, 71, and moved to Kilmarnock in 2004.
“I didn’t know anyone when I moved to Kilmarnock so I took a part-time job at B&Q to meet people,” she said.
“I enjoy working with people and meeting customers. It keeps the brain going.”
Family and friends don’t nag her to slow down.
“They are used to it – I’ve always worked and they think it’s great,” she added.
And her colleagues at work have all become “very good friends.” “There isn’t anyone I don’t get on with. They are like my extended family. I still keep in touch with the people who have left.”
Older workers can bring “experience and life skills” to the job, she added.
“If older people want to work then they should be able to,” Mrs Truesdale said.
Asked how long she plans to keep gong, she added: “As long as I can and as long as I can do my job well.”
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