Thirty four years later he is still at that firm and, at the age of 100, became the subject of a number of articles where he was reported as being one of Britain’s longest serving office temps .
The news stories were interesting in their own right, but it was the public’s response that piqued my curiosity further.
“Very happy for him but it would be better if the firm took on a young person in his place”, wrote one contributor.
“Come on Jim, move over and enjoy your retirement and lets [sic] get some school leavers on the ladder rung of work!!!!”, wrote another - enigmatically self-aliased ‘TT’.
While the majority of comments referred to Jim as an inspiration and wished him all the best, these were just two of many similar comments reinforcing the accusation that older people ‘block jobs’ for the young.
This idea is not novel to the media, as only recently, the Daily Mail ran an article with the headline: ‘Greying’ workforce is squeezing younger generation out of jobs after over-50s see 90% rise in employment’.
So what is the alternative solution for proponents of this discontented viewpoint? And how does this stand up when pitted against reported comments made by Lord Bichard in October 2012, when he said:
“We’re prepared to say to people if you’re not looking for work, you don’t get a benefit. If you’re old and you’re not contributing in some way, maybe there should be some penalty attached to that… Are we using all the incentives at our disposal to encourage older people not just to be a negative burden on the state but actually be a positive part of society?”
The ‘no win’ scenario of older people ‘blocking jobs’ or being a ‘negative burden’ on family and the state, is not only a perpetuation of a divisive ideology instilled across generations – it is also a distraction from the fact that older people, like anyone else acquire considerable, variable and multi-faceted capabilities which enable them to make valuable contributions. All that remains for them to be able to carry on, is for society to let this to happen.
The image of the ‘selfish older person’ job-blocking or being a burden, spectacularly fails to capture this perspective and serves to reinforce misconceptions and discrimination.
The vast majority of older people have been contributing throughout their lives and, whether, like Jim, they continue to be in employment or not, they continue to be a ‘positive part of society’ in many great ways.
The economic climate is something we all have to face, but older people have a range of experience, knowledge and skills to contribute in an employed capacity in the workplace or in an unemployed capacity through providing family-support, volunteering, supporting viability of community services and much more besides.
Recent research undertaken by Age UK London, which aimed to capture older Londoners views, highlighted just this point.
“I am appalled at the way ‘older people’ [are] portrayed by the media and others as the cause for the problems and insecurities of society. It causes one to feel as if you should just disappear; everything would be alright. Most older people are still fit and active and is [sic] contributing a lot by volunteering and also allowing the young people to work by looking after grandchildren and even great grandchildren.”
“I find the way older people are portrayed in the media as very distressful [sic],, with people being described as being a drain on the economy and depriving younger people of jobs, increasing their taxes etc. A great many older people help their families and their communities, with financial support and childcare support and are active volunteers in their local community.”
“I worked from the age of 15 till I retired at 67. I paid full contributions and a private pension so I am not entitled to claim anything. I still pay a large amount of tax. All I hear is the older people are living longer and are a burden which cost the state. I have well paid my way.”
So, I think all credit is due to Jim Clements for giving his time and effort to a cause that is a source of enjoyment for him and value to others. Credit is also due to so many other older people who continue to contribute in a multitude of ways, but who will never be recognised by the mainstream press.
Finally, and for the particular consideration of those who feel that older people deprive them of opportunities to work - it is worth noting that Jim is a former engineer for the MoD who is currently happy to go to work as an ‘office temp’. Perhaps there is a message in that somewhere…