How should society address the extension of our working lives?

Liz photo april 2017With the retirement age soon to go up to 68, The 50-year career is becoming a reality. What are the challenges we face and will they affect men and women differently? 

Liz Sewell is the Director of Belina: Get Ready for Work, a programme that supports women into employment, enterprise and training across London

With Brexit, the gig economy, stagnating wages and low productivity dominating the employability headlines one of the biggest changes seems to be taking place in the background. That is the extension of all our working lives. For young people leaving school this summer they are likely to be working for a minimum of fifty years before they are entitled to their pension. For Women this is an even bigger change as they had previously been able to retire at 60.

Fifty years is a long time to look ahead and make predictions, so let’s look back. Someone starting work fifty years ago, in 1967, might have expected a career in one industry, with many expecting a job for life. Most women would have not expected to work full time for all their working lives. Families were bigger, first time mothers were younger. Going on maternity leave was more likely to mean years rather than months and a return to work would as likely be part-time. Most women’s careers were shorter, and more fragmented.

Women starting work in 2017 will be better educated, they will be older when they have their first child, likely to have fewer children in their life time. Their longer working lives should enable them to participate more in the workforce, and gain ground in terms of pay equality as child rearing takes up a smaller percentage of their working lives.

But we need to be looking at the effects of this longer career on all women. At Belina we work with women, mainly mothers and often single mothers. Our cohort is usually a long way away from work. What they want from their working life is flexibility – something that allows them to take care of their responsibilities as parents as well as earning money. For many professionals that is just what IT has done – allowed them to mold their work around their lives. But for people in low-wage jobs, where they need to be present, like retail, care or cleaning, IT has not delivered them flexibility. These are not jobs that can be done over the internet. We know it is these women who account for many of the families where someone is working, but they are still living in poverty.

Work offers independence, increases confidence and provides an opportunity to maintain a lifestyle of choice.  We do, however, need to ensure that the right type of work is available. we need to challenge the gig economy and encourage organisations to look at what society needs and not allow it to be structured solely for the benefit of the new disrupter organisations like Uber, Deliveroo and Amazon – great as they are at creating new ways of working.

Making jobs that appeal and work well for men and women caring for their children should be a priority in the millennium age.  It is all of society’s responsibility to nurture and grow our young people into happy, creative and responsible adults if we want our society to thrive. It is in everybody’s interests to create an environment for people to be able to combine family and caring roles with work that helps them thrive as a unit.

But for many families it is not just childcare that is going to take up their time, care for the elderly is becoming a growing part of family life.

It’s clear that now we’re living in the era of the 50-year career that we should all be doing more to make work “work” for men and women, but it is also true that whilst women continue to take the main responsibility for caring, specialist support and specialist knowledge of women, mothers, lone parents and elder-carers remains crucial.



Delivering ‘what works well’ for clients through GRoW


My name is Annette Norrish and I work as a freelance trainer and coach.

Previous to being self-employed my work has mainly been within the voluntary sector, working with a national charity co-ordinating and facilitating accredited and non-accredited courses for parents.  From developing and delivering a wide range of programmes, I moved to focusing on supporting parents on their journey towards work. My introduction to Liz came as I was setting up a job club specifically to meet the needs of parents and carers and this subsequently led me to training with Belina and being able to offer the GRoW course at local Children’s Centres.

I am currently delivering courses for a local charity in Milton Keynes called ‘Works for Us’.

‘Works for Us’ is an employability charity with a 38 year history of helping disadvantaged people particularly women, to gain work in Milton Keynes. The charity works with people who have mental and physical health issues, people from ethnic minorities, carers and lone parents and those recovering from Domestic violence. This list is not exhaustive and many will fall into more than one category. What is common for almost all of the clients is a lack of confidence, low self-esteem and a feeling that they have already failed.  ‘Works for Us’ offers a range of services with the ambition to deliver what they have learned works well for clients, to deliver it consistently enabling individuals to access a range of activities according to their needs.

For me, the GRoW programme offers a framework that enables the group to build on each week’s activities and feel more confident about themselves. I particularly like the solution focused approach which helps participants recognise their skills and strengths and encourages them to focus on a more positive future. The topics on the course give opportunity for the group to explore and discuss issues together and individually, participants can build a practical toolkit that can help them feel more confident and equipped to move towards work.

Feedback from a previous course participant “Through meeting new people, I don’t feel so isolated. Attending a regular session has given me more motivation to be pro-active”.


Belina call for employers to #BeBoldForChange on International Women’s Day 2017

iwd2017-boldactions-30050 years on from the beginning of the feminist movement and you’d be excused for thinking that something is amiss.

Donald Trump’s first day in the Oval Office saw him signing a ban on federal money going to international groups that perform or provide information on abortions; two women a week are killed as a result of domestic violence; Advertising Agencies still think it acceptable to deface London’s Underground with ‘Are you beach body ready?’ and Khloe Kardashian ‘body shaming’ adverts; and pop culture, media and entertainment continue to publish photoshopped images of women linked to high levels of anxiety and depression suffered by teenage girls. And if all that’s not bad enough women can still expect to earn significantly less than men over the lifetime of their careers.

With The Guardian revealing last month that Knitting clubs are all the rage, along with gin cocktails and ballroom dancing you’d be forgiven for questioning whether the last 50 years actually happened at all!

Of course inroads have been made over the years to level the playing field with the government implementing various legislation – The Equal Pay Act of 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975, the Equality Act 2010 – but with limited results. The fact remains that due to differences in caring responsibilities, clustering in low skilled and low paid work, the qualifications and skills women acquire, and outright discrimination, the gender pay gap is alive and well and living in Britain.

Yet despite all this, for possibly the first time in British history, it’s women who reign supreme.

Theresa May, Nicola Sturgeon, Cressida Dick, Amber Rudd… Queen Elizabeth II, all simultaneously occupying Britain’s highest seats of power.  But what do these remarkable achievements mean for women of today – everyday women who want to work but also want the peace of mind that they can enjoy a work-life balance? Has progress, illustrated by high-flying female achievers, been embodied across the social and ethnic spectrum or is the glass ceiling only breakable for some?

Women’s representation in the labour force is steadily increasing. Today, over two-thirds of women aged 16-64 are employed and women represent just under half of the total labour force in the UK. The majority of mothers work – in 2014, almost as many women with children participated in the labour force as women with no children. So it’s good news – almost.

It’s true that there are many opportunities now available for women looking to work – flexible working, the gig economy, the advantages presented by digital technology – all this is definitely a boon BUT the fact remains that among the top 10% of earners, the majority are men and women are only more likely to be among the top earners when they are under or close to age 30 (the average age of women at childbirth).

Women continue to play a greater role in caring for children, as well as for sick or elderly relatives. As a result more women work part time, and these jobs are typically lower paid with fewer progression opportunities.

The statistics are less favourable still for women who migrate from Asian countries. They face significantly lower employment rates than migrant male or UK-born women workers.

That’s why, as an organisation that is committed to helping women into work and with projects specialising in Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Women, Belina is supporting International Women’s Day 2017 on Wednesday 8 March in their #BeboldForChange campaign to accelerate gender parity. We call on our colleagues in the employability industry, employers, influencers and partners to help women advance and unleash the limitless potential offered to economies the world over.

The World Economic Forum predicts the gender gap won’t close entirely until 2186. This is too long to wait.

Our experience is in supporting women furthest from the labour market and, in particular, lone parents, has helped us develop an in-depth understanding of the challenges many women face when looking to enter or re-enter the workforce. The first steps are often in confidence building and motivation but there are many opportunities for employers to improve the situation.  The Fawcett Society raise  some very good points regarding the gender pay gap and we back their call for employers and government to take action.

We ask employers to #BeBoldForChange and:

  • Advertise jobs at all levels in their organisation as flexible, part-time or a job share unless there is a strong business case not to
  • Unblock the pipeline. Support women to progress to higher paid jobs. Tackle unconscious bias and use targets to measure progress and focus minds.
  • Become a living wage employer – over 60% of those earning less that the living wage are women.

And we ask the government to:

  • build on the extension of free childcare by investing in our childcare infrastructure so that we have affordable, flexible and high quality care for children, enabling more families to balance work and care.

What will you #BeBoldForChange on for International Women’s Day 2017? Let us know here


Join Belina’s team and change women’s lives

Belina is extremely excited to announce that we are seeking new recruits to join our growing family!

Belina helps people get back to work.  We specialise in supporting women furthest from the labour market and, in particular, lone parents. We run intensive confidence building, motivation and employability sessions for parents using our Get Ready for Work programme – GRoW which helps parents to identify what they really enjoy about their current lives and what they want to change. It helps them to challenge their perceptions of the barriers they face and encourages them to take small steps back to work.

Belina also train advisers and work with Children’s Centres and local authorities to improve services for parents.

Our team is made up of experienced facilitators and advisers who are passionate and committed to supporting the hardest to help in society with continuous education and the development of bespoke customer journeys that leads to people achieving their long-term career goals.

Belina people understand the challenges that women, particularly lone parents, can face when seeking sustainable and suitable employment and champion the contribution women make to the world of employment. Through our GRoW Programme women are able to build their confidence in a motivational peer-to-peer group training environment which encourages them to take ownership of their lives.

An innovative organisation working on cutting edge employability projects with Primes across London we value diversity, promote equal opportunities and believe that work is an important part of all our lives. We value membership of the IEP.

We offer fully flexible working. All posts can be based at home with hours agreed in advance and all jobs are open to term-time only working.

I love working for Belina because they understand that I have other commitments with my family and allow me the flexibility to experience real worklife balance.’
Belina Marketing Manager

So, do you think you have what it takes to be a Belina person?

We have a number of opportunities across London, all funded by the ESF, BBO, Big Lottery Fund and the DWP.

To support lone parents and women with caring responsibilities into work
Working across Hillingdon, Ealing and Hammersmith and Fulham
Based in Hillingdon, or work from home. One-year contract
£15 an hour, 21 hours a week. £16,380 a year (prorata from £29,250)
Job Code: EEBWL
Find out more about this job here

To support lone parents and women with caring responsibilities into work
Working across Croydon and Merton.
Based in Croydon, or work from home. One-year contract
£15 an hour, 16 hours a week. £13,000 a year (prorata from £29,250)
Job Code: EEBC
Find out more about this job here

To engage Tamil, Sri Lankan, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women.
Working across Croydon and Merton – based in the community. Eight-month contract.
10 hours a week, £13.00 an hour. £6,760 a year (prorata from £25,350)
Job Code: SAWEC
Find out more about this job here

  • Closing date for applications: noon Friday 24 March 2017
  • Interviews week commencing 3 April
  • Posts commence 8 May 2017
  • You must be DBS checked
  • There is a threemonth probationary period
  • Statutory pension, sick pay and maternity pay.


The challenges of the 50-Year Career

Many years ago, when I began my working life, I was told I could retire at 60, 60 became 62, then 65 and now, as the goal posts move yet again, its 67 and counting.  In fact, the prospect of actually retiring one day seems to be moving further and further away.  The 50-year career is now a reality and we have to get used to it.  But how does this affect people, what are the challenges we face and does it affect men and women differently?

At Belina’s Roundtable discussion about the 50-year career there were many opinions and observations debated. Belina was joined by a variety of organisations, all focused on supporting women and all equipped with a deep knowledge of what women really need in order to get back to work. Flexibility, agile working, childcare, benefits and low pay were the key issues on the agenda but it was clear that this was just the surface and that there are many more considerations.

Firstly, women need to feel supported. Women, and particularly those who have children, can experience many anxieties about employment and how having a job might affect their life and their family’s lives.  They need someone they can talk to that listens and understands their issues and can signpost them to get support they need on subjects such as benefits and childcare.  They need to feel valued. Ayan Yahye from Faith Regeneration spoke eloquently at the roundtable event about how women need to be recognised for their achievements as mothers and for the extraordinary role they play within their families.  What they don’t need is to feel they have no value because they don’t have a job.

Women need to feel confident, not just in themselves and their ability to re-join the workforce, but confident that they are doing the best for their families and their children in returning to work. Many women feel a huge burden that they are juggling their work and their families and not giving their best to either. These are important considerations for women and they need to have specialist support from people who can help them think their issues through and then help them to overcome their challenges so they can see employment as a positive step.

My firm belief is that women are almost always happier if they are in work. Work offers independence, increases confidence and provides an opportunity to maintain a lifestyle of choice.  We do, however, need to ensure that the right type of work is available. Unfortunately, in the current climate there are many turn-offs for women looking to return to work – most vacancies advertised are heavily weighted towards full time positions and there are still horror stories reported in the news that are likely to deter women from work “Temp gets sent home for not wearing high heels; No job available for me after maternity leave; gender pay gap continues” to name but a few.  Not very encouraging if you’ve been a long way from work for a long time!

We hear a lot about new ways of working that should offer more opportunities for women but whilst the gig economy and zero contract hours enables flexibility not all employers offer these terms and, often they can be poorly paid with no guaranteed income. It’s not just low skilled positions affected by today’s working landscape either; more professional women in jobs such as teaching are being forced to leave the profession due to longer working hours that are not conducive to a work/life balance. Many employers who offer part-time positions only do so on the basis of the work being undertaken at weekends and evenings – not easy for a working mother and especially so if you’re a lone parent or caring for ageing parents.

Employers still have a long way to go if they are serious about tapping into the significant skills and talents that women at work can offer.  Women are notoriously proficient in multi-tasking, they typically have strong nurturing skills suited to personal and team development; they do better in achieving qualifications and they are extremely good at adapting to change. Yet despite all this, many employers, particularly large employers, do not actively recruit women and often it’s because it is still viewed as ‘too difficult’.

Making jobs that actually appeal and work well for women should be a priority in the millennium age.  It is all of society’s responsibility to nurture and grow our young people into happy, creative and responsible adults if we want our society to thrive. It is in everybody’s interests to create an environment for people to be able to combine family and caring roles with work that helps them thrive as a unit.

So much of policy today is making life for women, particularly mothers, more challenging rather than easier. Laura Dewar from Gingerbread mentioned that commissioning of services and programmes still does not take into account the fact that parents have outside responsibilities and economic measures such as the benefit cap is pressurising many women to return to the workplace much sooner than they wish, even whilst pregnant or with newborn babies.

Even measures that have been set up to try to help women return to work have not always proven successful. This week the Institute of Economic Affairs has called for universal free childcare to be scrapped as families most in need of help are not getting it because Government subsidies are poorly targeted.  With the news that many families on average earnings are spending more than a third of net income on childcare it is not surprising that it can be a challenge to convince women to feel motivated about returning to work and help them feel positively about it.

I was delighted though to meet so many great organisations at the roundtable event who are all absolutely dedicated to supporting women who do want or need to return to work.  People like Jessie Bondswell from SimplyMums, a mother who has set up her own recruitment agency specialising in finding good work that works for women. Wendy at Working Chance who are the UK’s only specialist recruitment consultancy for women with criminal convictions and women care leavers; Working Families and Gingerbread’s Laura Dewar who is a policy campaigner for single parents and committed to promoting better quality work for mothers; Jan Townsend from  Kennedy Scott our partner on the Help to Work Programme and and Ayan Yahee from Faith Regeneration who, like Belina are delivering local training opportunities for women as part of our BBO project Raising Aspirations. Thank you for all you do and thank you also to Sam Windett at ERSA for being a fantastic chair and to our two Token men, Thisara David from the IEP and Richard Brooks Fellow of the Insitute of Employability Professionals and Board member at ERSA.

It’s clear that now we’re living in the era of the 50 year career that we should all be doing more to make work “work” for women and that, in this changing landscape, specialist support and specialist knowledge of women and lone parents has never been so important.