Patricia's voice - ageism in recruitment
The school worker experienced ageism after returning to work from shielding during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Patricia, 63, lives in London talks about her work at a school, caring for children with special needs, and living with Type 1 diabetes.
I have had this job for six years. I love the children and I love caring for them. They are sensory children so their communication is very physical. I am closely involved with them, toileting, feeding, doing everything for them. The work can be difficult at times and very physical. But I’m drawn to the job, like a magnet. I like to know that I have done something helpful.
When the children returned to school after the first lockdown, you could see how much it meant to them. They were so happy when they saw us. They wouldn’t have much of a life without somewhere to go.
For me the biggest challenge at work is not the children. It is the management and the staff. It is a sad thing to say, but it is the way they treat me. That’s my problem, not the children. I think I only got this job because they were desperate for staff. If it had been a different type of job, they would have turned me down. But it is difficult to find carers for children with special needs.
When I was going for interviews, I found myself having to explain so much and prove myself, because of my age. I had to convince them that I'm fit enough to work. They would ask ‘can you do this or can you do that?’ or ‘that's going to be difficult for you’. When this school offered me a job, I felt it was because they didn’t have anyone else.
The way work is set up makes it difficult for us to do our jobs. But we have so much to offer.
Six years later, other staff have come and gone, and I am still here because I love my work. They are not reliable. But the children need stability and to be with the same, regular carers every day. Otherwise, it can be difficult for them.
When I applied for the job, I told them about my diabetes. I have had this condition for about 30 years. But I think they didn’t take much notice because they needed somebody like me to start straight away. I work hard and I think I make a difference to the children. But I am always having to explain myself to managers and younger members of staff when there are things I can’t do because of my condition. There is a lot of ignorance.
They make me feel guilty or question my own ability. Because of this I have sometimes gone to work when I did not feel well enough or I am in pain. But I don’t want people to think I am lazy or trying to take the easier work and not pull my weight.
During the first lockdown I had to shield because of my condition and I was unable to work. It was tough for me. I was confined to my home and living in fear that I might get COVID, because I might not survive. I relied on my daughter for shopping, just to safeguard myself. It wasn’t something I was happy about.
But when I returned to work in September, younger colleagues who are fit and healthy treated me like I had been on holiday and had a good break. But it really wasn’t like that. I wanted to work. Now there is another lockdown and I have to shield again.
I have another two years before I retire and the government says I am fit enough to work. We are coming into an era where more older people are working and staying for longer in their jobs, and many are in similar situations to me. I talk to other women at work who are older and they feel like me. The way work is set up makes it difficult for us to do our jobs. But we have so much to offer.