Liam ByrneLewis Whyld/PA Wire

Liam Byrne, Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary, has announced a new approach to benefits - whereby older people, who have been paying into the system for longer, should be entitled to higher payments.

So how would it work, and is this fair?

Byrne made the announcement in a piece for the Daily Telegraph. At the moment there is a link between how much National Insurance you have paid during your working career so far, and how much Job-Seekers' Allowance you are entitled to, but the Labour Party wants to go further and ensure that those with long work histories will be entitled to higher payments.

Payback

Byrne wrote: "I think social security should offer more for those that chipped in most either caring or paying in National Insurance. Our most experienced workers and carers have earned an extra hand. We should make sure there something better for when they need it."

The over 50s have certainly put their fair share into the system. Byrne quotes the calculation that workers over the age of 50 have paid an average of 33 years of National Insurance Contributions. This comes to an average of £107,000 over their career.

And what do they earn in return? £71.70 a week in Job Seekers' Allowance, which lasts for just six months, and is removed altogether if the household has savings of £16,000 or their partner works more than 24 hours a week. It's hardly surprising that a survey by Age UK found that 56% of people over the age of 50 feel they have been treated badly by the government.

Tougher problems

The problems facing unemployed workers over the age of 50 are clear. A report by Age UK found that when there's a round of redundancies the over 50s are far more likely to face the axe than those aged 24-50.

Those who claim unemployment benefit are likely to spend far longer out of work than any other age group. Age UK found that only 23% find work within three months: this compares with over 35% of those aged 35-49, and 40% of those aged 24-35.

Paul Green, director of communications for Saga adds: "Of the 389,000 unemployed people over 50, just less than half of them have been without work for 12 months or more, revealing that older workers are more likely to be unemployed longer term and find it more difficult to get a new job than younger age groups."

As the population ages and the state pension age rises, the army of unemployed older people is only going to grow, so their needs must be addressed with urgency.

Other countries offer additional help for older unemployed people. Byrne highlighted Germany, where older people get higher rates of unemployment benefit, Japan, where there are specialist job centres for this group and Canada, where there is a specific grant for older people wanting to develop new skills.

Buying votes?

However, there will be those that argue that older people also are more likely to vote, and the grey vote is going to be key in the next election. Given that every party is wrestling with the idea of cutting universal benefits for pensioners, this could soften the blow, and may be political manoeuvring.

There is also the question of where the money is going to come from. Will there be more pain for younger unemployed people, who face their own difficulties in finding work without experience on their side?

But what do you think? Do older people deserve better benefits, or is this Labour's attempt to buy the grey vote?


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