Jobcentre Plus advisers have been accused of discrimination against older jobseekers and should be given training to help deal with their specific needs, age campaigners said.
Figures published last week revealed the number of unemployed people aged over 50 had risen to 371,000 – a 44% increase in a year – while those out of work for between six and 12 months rose 71%.
The Age and Employment Network (TAEN) and charity Age UK claim that Jobcentre Plus staff have not have the right training to tackle rising unemployment among over-50s, and that tailored sessions on the requirements of older jobseekers must be added to advisers' training programmes.
They complain that advisers tended to focus on paper qualifications, which many older workers did not possess and call for Jobcentre Plus staff to be trained on the range of informal skills held by older jobseekers, and for more support to be given to preparing CVs and interview techniques.
Help for older jobseekers is available through Jobcentre Plus' New Deal 50+ scheme, but this service is not routinely offered to older workers as it has a limited budget. The service is being replaced by the Flexible New Deal.
TAEN chief executive Chris Ball comments that the training of New Deal 50+ advisers had been phased out. "The message is that New Deal 50+ has passed its sell-by date and is not the priority of Jobcentre Plus," he said.
Ball cited the example of one jobseeker who told TAEN: "The Jobcentre virtually told me to go away when I was made redundant at 61 and came to it looking for employment."
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said Jobcentre Plus advisers received 7.5 days induction training followed by seven days personal adviser-specific learning. In the first three months of employment, advisers also undergo seven days of job-specific training.
A DWP spokeswoman said: "Jobcentre Plus is providing real help for its customers. It continually assesses the training needs of staff and the service needs of its customers." In other words no acceptance of the criticisms that many older workers voice when they attend.