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Mary's voice

After ill health, a marriage break-up and earning a degree from university, Mary has been liberally applying for jobs without much luck.

The 62-year-old shares her story of struggles with unemployment, the impact it has had on her life and the fact she still feels like she's got great skills to offer employers. 

Mary, 62, from Bristol, has been trying to find work for a year. Three years off state pension age, she has a wide range of skills and experience – which has seen her work in the retail, art and admin roles ­­– and has been liberally applying for jobs for several months – but has found it difficult even to get interviews.

Back in 2010, Mary suffered a few big life changes. Not only did her marriage break down after 32 years, but she experienced health problems. First she was diagnosed with cancer, and was supported through her treatment by her ex-husband and her three sons. She was then diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called AITP, a blood platelet syndrome.

Incredibly, she managed to study during this time, and got a degree in Art, which she thought would make her a more desirable person to employ – but she has struggled to get interest.

“It’s so ageist out there,” she says.

Mary tells of her experience taking part in a group interview for a local furniture store.

“There were 20 people and everybody was under the age of 25, apart from me. They interviewed me for five minutes and then asked us to do things in groups. I just thought, I’ve no chance, not competing against all these young people.” She was notified shortly after that she was unsuccessful.

I know I can contribute – and that’s the frustrating part, when you’re just sat there applying for jobs but not getting anywhere. You’re obviously trying in many ways, but then you just think, ‘ugh.'

While she has found being rejected for jobs demoralising, she is trying to stay up-beat.

 “I know I can contribute,” she adds. “And that’s the frustrating part, when you’re just sat there applying for jobs but not getting anywhere. You’re obviously trying in many ways, but then you just think, ‘ugh’”.

The bout of unemployment is having a huge impact on her life in other ways. “I have to put my house up for sale because I can’t afford to stay in it,” she says. “I’ve got two sons: one’s 25, one’s 29. The 29-year-old works for the civil service, he’s moving to be near his job and so he will not be able to pay any bills anymore.

Along with her ex-husband and her eldest son, Mary owns a third of the house, but her ex-husband is planning on giving his share to their younger son so he can get on the property ladder.

“I’ll be lucky if I get £70,000 from the house sale. It would be a challenge to live on that for the next few years before I get my pension – and even when you’re getting pension, it’s not brilliant.”

Mary has now turned to Jobcentre Plus in a bid to help her find employment, which hasn’t been the most positive experience. Ideally, she is looking for a job in retail, something related to her art degree, or a position that is office-based.

“I’ve got a lovely, really sweet advisor. She knows exactly my position and she’s not that much younger than me. She gave me a list of age-friendly websites for people like me – and not one of them was worth the paper it was written on.

“Two of them had gone into administration and the others were just insulting or they were just not right. I researched every single one of them. So, I’m good at researching. You see, that’s another thing, even though I don’t have office experience, I’m damn good at researching.”

Fulfilling work

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