Major concerns have been voiced at the growing number of unemployed workers in their 50s across Northern Ireland being left on the job scrapheap.
Concerns that older workers will be left behind on the road to economic recovery comes after figures revealed the number of people over 50 claiming benefits across the province has almost doubled in two years.
In July 2008 figures issued by the Department for Enterprise Trade and Investment showed that 3,800 people in their 50s were claiming unemployment benefits.
By July 2010 this had jumped to 7,395 — 13.1% of the total number of people claiming benefits.
Across the UK there are 170,000 people over 50 who have been out of work for more than 12 months, a 50% increase over the last year.
The gloomy statistics for that age range comes with warnings that the level of unemployment is expected to rise above 70,000 over the next 18 months.
Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey also warned that Northern Ireland would continue to have a worse out-of-work record than the rest of the UK.
The figures also emerge on the back of Government pledges to scrap the official retirement age to allow people to work until they are in their 70s.
But leading charities for championing the rights of older people said the move would “not benefit anyone” if there are not enough jobs for people to work past the age of 65.
They also warned that long periods of unemployment for older workers now deny them the opportunity to build up a decent pension, creating a ‘lost generation’ of jobless over-50s dependent on benefits and facing a retirement in poverty.
Bill Carson, chair of Age Sector Platform, said: “These statistics, illustrating the number of older workers who are unable to find employment, are very disheartening, particularly when we consider the wealth of experience which older people can contribute and which employers must not under-value in the current labour market.”
Kathleen DeLaney (54), from south Belfast, is currently job hunting.
She said she believes her age is a factor in not being successful in finding work and that it can leave many feeling they are on the “job scrapheap”.
“The few courses I’ve been on I met a few girls around my age and they felt exactly the same. They’ve applied for lots of jobs and got nowhere,” she said.
“You find younger people with more qualifications and I think they will look at them and pick them before someone older.
“It can be very frustrating.”
Anne O’Reilly, chief executive of Age NI, said the rise is a “worrying trend” that requires Government action.
“We call on Government to act on the recommendations from an NIO report which recommends that an increased focus be put upon the requirements of older participants in back to work programmes, to meet the needs of older workers and to meet the demands of the labour market,” she said.
Mr Carson said: “Although the ongoing consultation on the abolition of the default retirement age is very welcome, it will not be of benefit to anyone if there are not enough jobs for people to work past the age of 65.”
Susan Russam, chief executive of GEMS NI, which was set up to address long-term unemployment and economic inactivity in east and south Belfast, said: “Many fear that they won’t get another job — that employers will think that they are too old to learn new things — this of course is not the case, but it is a perception held by both some older people and some employers.”