Last week, I was back in North Wales as a trustee of Prime Cymru to attend the opening of their new offices in Colwyn Bay.

Founded by HRH the Prince of Wales in 2001, the charity provides advice and support to individuals over the age of 50 who are economically inactive, under employed or at risk of redundancy and potentially be at risk of being marginalised and facing older age poverty.

Since its establishment, it has been, and still remains, the only organisation in Wales dedicated to providing tailored advice and support to the economically inactive 50 plus age group.

In fact, whilst there is a focus on providing support to young people through many programmes and initiatives at a UK and Welsh Government level, it is worth noting that there remain considerable employment and economic activity issues for older people in Wales that have been largely ignored.

For example, over 1 in 3 of all older people aged 50 to retirement age are currently not working (i.e. 210,000 people) with around two thirds registered for incapacity or other benefits. Indeed, research has shown that a person over the age of 50 is five times more likely to be made redundant and is eight times less likely to find alternative employment than a person in the 18-30 age group.

In addition, the number of people over the age of 50 who are considered as NEETS (Not in Education, Employment or Training) is over four times the number of those in the 16-24 age group, with little being done to help them. This is despite data from the Office of National Statistics showing that around one third of all older people currently inactive would like to work.

With the population living longer, and with the pension age steadily increasing, more people will need to continue to earn a living into their 60s and 70s to reduce the impact of older age poverty. Whilst the 2006 Age Discrimination legislation will help older people who wish to continue to work, this needs to be complemented by practical support and help from various quarters including the voluntary sector.

In that regard, PRIME Cymru plays a leading role by being an enabler, innovator and advocate of schemes to provide practical help to support older people by utilising its many years of valuable experience.

It provides one-to-one support to individuals to develop self-employment opportunities and secure sustainable employment. It also offers opportunities for skills, confidence and qualification development together with volunteering opportunities for those furthest from the labour market as a stepping stone to more formal economic activity.

The charity now runs the largest mentoring programme in Wales with over 380 volunteer mentors, all of whom have been recruited because of their skills, knowledge and expertise. As a result, they are fully able to support clients on a one-to-one basis by offering a sounding board and acting as a critical friend in the clients’ journey towards employment or self-employment.

The impact of this type of support has been considerable. Since it was established, PRIME Cymru has successfully engaged with 25,000 individuals in Wales by providing them with bespoke practical tailored support, advice and guidance to assist them with remaining in or returning to economic activity.

Each year, it provides in excess of 45,000 hours of volunteer mentoring time that is valued at over £1.2m to the Welsh economy. In fact, it puts many other private sector providers to shame by operating a low expenditure but high impact programme where it costs an average of less than £750 to assist an individual to return to economic activity.

And this work is set to continue over the next five years with plans to engage with a further 50,000 individuals in need of support to overcome barriers to re-engagement with economic activity.

Therefore, with out of work older people finding it more difficult to get a job and being more likely than younger people to remain unemployed for longer, it is critical that they are given the right encouragement to become economically active. Fortunately, Prime Cymru is playing its part to support a vital part of our society to help make a significant contribution to the economy of Wales and it is only hoped that policymakers and other organisations will work alongside the charity to maximise this impact over the next few years.

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