For the last three months The Young Foundation has been working with Mind to develop a programme targeting the mental health of older men who are out of work. Our goal was to work with them to discover the best ways to help build their resilience and reduce their risk of mental problems.
As part of this work we have been talking to men about their experiences in trying to find work, and how being unemployed affects their life and wellbeing. Our report, ‘Who is going to employ me?’ shares the stories and experiences of men in Darlington, Hackney, Merthyr Tydfil, Newham and York, as well as making practical recommendations about designing resilience interventions.
We want to introduce you to some of the men we met along the way. These profiles are composite portraits based around the men who shared their lives and opinions with us. The sentiments shared in quotes are direct quotations from real individuals.
John, Merthyr Tydfil
John is a familiar face in Merthyr Tydfil, he’s lived there for 60 years. He lives alone in a council flat on the edge of Merthyr Tydfil and although he doesn’t go out much, he is very settled in this area. Since John was seventeen he has worked for various local factories but ten years ago, he was forced to stop working because of chronic back problems. Losing his job really knocked his confidence and sent him on a downward spiral that he has struggled to get out of. His Disability Living Allowance has now been withdrawn and this makes him feel very resentful. He doesn’t feel fit enough to work but he has to get a job in order to get his benefits.
“I shouldn’t be on job seekers allowance…with the condition I’m in.”
Also, because he’s in his late fifties he feels that people will no longer want to employ him anyway.
“It’s very difficult to find a job at my age…It’s the harsh reality that you’re not wanted anymore.”
John’s health has deteriorated and he has put on a lot of weight, making it difficult for him to return to manual work, but he is reluctant to work in something that doesn’t recognise his past experience.
“This reskill thing that they’re on about, what is there for me to reskill about except a cleaning job or something…”
The job centre has tried to get John office based work so that he wouldn’t have to do anything too physical. But he thinks at his age it’s too late to learn how to use a computer, and he doesn’t want an office job anyway: “At my age I’m not good on a computer I’ve got no skills on the computer, I’ve always been a physical person…” But his lack of computer skills is making it difficult for him to even apply for jobs: “It is hard to get used to online job searches. I have poor typing and computer skills.”
John has always felt fine living alone but since being unemployed he has found it quite hard to cope. John used to enjoy going to the pub to meet with his friends, but over time he has become increasingly isolated, spending most of the day in his flat, where he feels comfortable:
“I’ve basically been out of work for a number of years now and I wasn’t doing anything with myself at all and I was sort of staying in four walls and I sort of shut myself off society for a number of years … and because I live on my own there was a problem with loneliness as well…”
Last September he went to see his GP for a routine check-up because of his high blood pressure. They talked about his unhealthy lifestyle and lack of physical activity. Although John wasn’t motivated to do anything to change his lifestyle, he acknowledged that he wasn’t very happy. The GP suggested that doing something outdoors with people might help lift his mood and improve his physical health. John was a bit reluctant at first but he realised that something would have to change. He referred John to a local allotment project which John now attends twice a week.
“I’d always wanted to sort of learn to grow my own vegetables and never really got around to doing it because I had nothing going on in my life at the time and it was a good timing and a good opportunity to sort of look into it.”
“What I’ve found with this gardening project … [is] that it can open so many doors… you just don’t know the kind of people that you can meet and the kinds of opportunities that can be created.”
This has given him a much more positive outlook and he is spending less time alone indoors:
“It’s made a tremendous difference. I seem to be more upbeat about life than what I was. Because I mean when I wasn’t doing anything I could get quite depressed and then I would not sort of feed myself properly, which has been a big problem for me…but I’m starting to get over it a bit now.”
Now that his confidence is increasing, John has also started going to the employment advice drop-ins at the local community centre where an adviser is helping him with his CV and applications.
To find out more about the challenges faced by men like John and how we can support their resilience and wellbeing, read our report “Who is going to me employ me?”