A group of woman in their 60s turned up at a Gloucestershire jobs fair and asked company bosses if they could sign up to be the oldest apprentices in town.
The women said they were following the advice of Government minister Guy Opperman who suggested apprenticeships as a way of retraining rather than retiring in later life.
But after looking around the jobs fair at Cheltenham Town Hall the women said the work and pensions minister needs to rethink his policies to get older woman back into the workplace.
“I was only doing what Mr Opperman told me too,” said teacher Cheryl Butterworth, 60, who visited the fair after several attempts to find an apprenticeship through the careers’ service failed.
“When I asked about doing an apprenticeship at my age they looked at me as I was a bit strange, but there were none available anyway. They just said look on our website.
“Most of the jobs were in the care sector or hospitality and one of the companies said they would have to do a risk assessment on me to make sure I was fit enough before considering me for any jobs.”
The women belong to the Gloucestershire branch of the national campaign Women against State Pension Inequality, WASPI, and are fighting for interim payments to bridge the gap between the former retirement age of 60 and when they can collect their pensions seven years later.
They believe around 35,000 Gloucestershire women were caught out by the changes.
Spokesman Claire Eddleston said the women wanted to test the Prime Minister’s assertion that extra resources are being ploughed into retraining women born in the 1950s who have been caught up in the pension trap.
The women claim they did not have time to plan for the changes because they were never specifically told about the age increase and how it would impact on them and ar now struggling to find work.
Cheryl also claims the Government are discriminating against her on age grounds because although she is now still considered of working age, she cannot claim grants or loans available to young people to study for an MA or Phd because she is too old.
Unemployed Mary Saunders, 61, said: “Even if I’d been in my 20s or 30s I wouldn’t have found a job in there unless I wanted to do care work.
“Most woman our age have spent years caring already. We did not get the training young people get today. As a result we all have bad backs, frozen shoulders and dodgy knees.”
Former English and drama teacher Brenda Marks, 63, accused the the Government of “mugging old ladies” after they brought in the changes months after she took early retirement expecting to get a state pension at 60.
Others said even they could get an apprenticeship, it would be difficult to support themselves on such a low wage aimed at young people living at home with their parents and they did not want to take work from unemployed youngsters.
Organiser Nick White of MGMT Media Ltd denied the fair did not have any jobs the women could have appplied for and said it attracted over 400 visitors and employers on most of the 23 stands wanted to come face to face with suitable people they could employ.
He said only a quarter of employers at the fair were from the care sector and every age group has its own specific problems when comes to finding work, not just older women.
“To say there were no jobs here is inaccurate,” he said. “It all depends on what they were looking for. From what I can gather they were asking about apprenticeships.
“A lot of people rule themselves out of certain jobs because they expect to do the work they have always done, but they need to see what is available and then consider all their options.
“I cannot comment on the Government’s policy on pension age and apprenticeships but when it comes to looking for a job, it is up to the candidate to sell themselves and convince employers they have the right skills.”
Guy Opperman was one of the first MPs to employ an apprentice and angered womens’ groups when he suggested older women could get such jobs during a debate in the House of Commons in July.
The Government deny WASPI claims that the women did not get enough notice to re-plan their retirement when the pension change went up.