Me too? Not quite

I revel in the advances of feminism. My life is a testament to what the movement achieved for us females, and for the record – I celebrate it. But it is also a fact that paradise this isn’t. I clicked on a link at Christmas, thinking to be diverted for 10-15 minutes, and saw a full half-hour documentary of women in their early- and mid-sixties lamenting that they can’t draw the state pension they expected at 60 because the rules changed and the pension now kicks in (for them and us) later.

A campaign has been launched, and the documentary made. Its focal point, believe it or not, is Ken Loach being interviewed. Seriously, Ken Loach! Never mind…

You know me: I’m ready, at the drop of a hint of unfairness, to take up the cudgels and battle for justice. I’ll be there at the demonstration with a slogan and a placard, and will overcome my natural shyness [cough] to speak up at a protest meeting. So upon seeing this programme, did I leap up and click to sign the petition? On the contrary – it depressed me unutterably. Here were bright, capable women, all vital, articulate and brimming with wisdom and energy holding their metaphorical hand out on my screen: “Giss the money.” It left a bad taste in the mouth. It had a whiff of entitlement, but also of despair. Many of these women are on the verge of penury; many depressed; some gone by their own hand.

Ken Loach it was –bless him– who made the obvious point: women of that age run our communities. Look around Barnet: the activists in community, voluntary, and campaigning groups are constituted of that very demographic. “The glue that holds our communities together,” said Loach.Too true! Why are they reduced to begging? Why are they not earning the money they need? Why are they not paid for what they do do?

Their plight is not theirs alone – it is shared by all of us over 55 without independent means. Look around the workplace: where are the older workers? But especially where are the older women? Better still, look at the job ads: Where are the recruiters boasting of their “older teams”, or that “we offer exciting opportunities for the middle aged”? Laughable, aren’t they, those phrases? Therein lies the tragedy of our dysfunctional labour market. Older women in corporations are etiolated like a dumbbell: either at the very top – the few, lucky ones; or staffing the reception desk and the cleaning rota. What about all those roles in between?

I shared my concern with my friend Amanda who runs her own ‘profit centre’ at a corporation. How about hiring women our age, I asked. Her answer broke my heart.The couple of times I tried, she said, it ended badly. Remind you of anything? It’s akin to someone protesting: “But some of my best friends are Jews/gay/disabled!” I forbore to ask Amanda about those occasions when younger employees ended badly…

God knows there is much wrong with the workplace. But –shall we coin an ugly verb– scrapheaping so many talented people with rich life experience to the unpaid margins must surely top that ugly, hierarchical pile.

I’m envisaging a workplace where all kinds of people occupy every function; where if you are ready to work remunerative employment will be yours; where you are paid fairly for labour you do (and so carers and dustmen are among the highest earners); and where you are valued for your work and for your other contributions.

I quote my hero John Lennon: You may say I’m a dreamer. But I still want to live in a world where I never need to draw a pension.Where I will always be making a contribution and it will be remunerated, and provide me with a living. And you too of course.

Amen to that, and a Happy New Year to all my readers.


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