Hearing the Voices of People Over 50

Disappearing at 50

When I was Manager of the Commission on Older Women, organised and chaired by Labour’s Harriet Harman, one of the key messages that came home to us was that people in their 50s, in this case women, disappear.

We held many listening events to hear the voices of older women. They told us again and again that they were not seen in the media, their voices were not heard, and their opinions not sought. Once you had reached 50, especially as a woman, you were no longer of importance in, or to, society. Seeing and hearing the voices of people over 50 was a major problem.

Sadly, three and a half years on from the Commission’s final report, this remains the case. The media continues to emphasise youth. Images of older people on television and in online and print media favour established stereotypes of need and incapacity. These images remain embedded in social attitudes which fail to recognise the potential of the over 50s.

Why is this important?

Given increasing longevity, the government is keen to engage the over 50s more actively in society – a later state pension age and longer working lives followed by an active retirement. Research and policy seek to support this, but we still don’t see the desired changes in practice. Stereotypes limit assumptions of potential and productivity. Individuals cannot find the opportunities and choices they are looking for – especially regarding work, retirement and financial security. Confronted by health issues, inflexible jobs and a lack of scope to change what they do, many prefer the retirement option.

At events and conferences, I have found that while many people seek to further the needs of the over 50s, the people involved – the over 50s themselves – are missing. Their voices are still not heard so we fail to fully understand the complexity of their experience. In order to effectively bridge policy and practice, and deliver a life which people over 50 want, this needs to be addressed. If we hear and see the people concerned and find out what they really want, perhaps society – policy-makers, practitioners, employers – can respond better to the potential they offer.

New Middle Age is seeking to explore these important issues in its New Middle Age Voices campaign. This aims to specifically provide a voice for the over 50s who are not yet retired and still actively involved in the world of work. It is particularly important to understand the difference in individual experience and attitudes and the campaign seeks to highlight these. In particular, we are keen to explore:

  • aspirations and ambitions
  • image
  • work
  • your future
  • finding a mid-life balance

Details can be found on the blog here and comments can be left on the blog or via Twitter @NewMidAgeVoices

A New Initiative in Wales

This week we see the start of a programme of listening events for older workers in Wales, organised by Swansea University and Ageing Well in Wales. These will provide a welcome platform to hear the voices of older workers. They aim to improve job opportunities and working conditions for older people by finding out about the real experiences of people over 50, whether in work, recently returned, looking for work, setting up a business or planning retirement.

Discussion will focus on a number of key questions:

  • have you experienced discrimination because of your age?
  • what changes do we need to make to support an ageing workforce?
  • what difficulties have you experienced?
  • what are your concerns for the future?

Responses will form the basis for research which will seek to build understanding about the barriers, obstacles or discrimination faced by the over 50s in the world of work, and identify the positive changes to jobs and workplaces which would properly support them.

New Middle Age welcomes this new research and is in touch with the research team. The first event takes place in Tylorstown, Rhondda on 27 September. Anyone aged over 50 is welcome to take part, but the researchers are particularly keen to hear about the experience of:

  • people who have recently returned to work after a period of not working.
  • people who are currently looking for work or to change jobs.
  • people who have set up their own business in later life.
  • people who have worked for a long time in the same occupation or industry.

Details of this and the other events in the programme can be found on the Swansea University Centre for Ageing & Dementia Research website here

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