Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from The Carnegie Third Age Programme

  We have corresponded earlier about your Committee's inquiry into age discrimination in employment. I refer in particular to your letter of 16 November 2000 and am writing as you requested to submit some views on the question by your deadline of 19 January.

  No doubt the nature of your inquiry will have been significantly altered by the announcement by the Government last October of its acceptance of the EU Equal Treatment Directive with a commitment to introduce legislation against age discrimination within six years from that time.

  In view of this commitment, which is most welcome to us, there seems no further need to offer arguments as to the necessity or otherwise for such legislation and the debate now moves to how this commitment should most effectively be implemented.

  The major outstanding points which I would wish to offer to the Inquiry are therefore as follows:


  We would urge that the commitment on age legislation is taken forward in the wider context of other equal opportunity obligations, both as they exist now and as they will be when the Directive is implemented. In particular, we see significant advantage in moving to an arrangement whereby:

    (a)  there is a single statutory obligation not to discriminate unfairly in employment on any ground; and

    (b)  a single integrated commission charged with addressing all forms of equal opportunity.

  In pressing for this more integrated approach, I would draw the Committee's attention to our own report Equal Opportunities: A New Approach, of which you have a copy, and the report chaired by Professor Hepple at Cambridge, Equality: a New Framework. The former provides evidence of widespread employer support for such an approach. The significance of the latter, apart from its wealth of detail on the topic, is I suggest the degree of support for integration which it commanded from CBI, TUC and the existing equality commissions.

  There is inevitably a certain amount of vested interest on the part of the existing commissions, given the restricted nature of their remits, in maintaining the status quo. However, the qualified support which they felt able to give to Hepple suggests a recognition of the significant advantages which would come from such integration. Outstanding among these is the opportunity it would provide of moving from a prohibitive and negative approach to a positive encouragement to employers, backed by the law, to base their employment policies on treating all individuals on their merits.

  On balance, I would prefer to see an integrated equality commission operating alongside rather than as part of a Human Rights Commission, if the Government decides to create one.

  Finally on this aspect, I suggest that if the Commission favoured this integrated approach, it would be well placed to suggest a parallel integration of the various employer bodies working to provide equal opportunities—such as the Employers Forum on Age (EFA) and the Employers Forum on Disability.


  I suggest that there is an urgent need to set in place arrangements to monitor the extent of age discrimination. At present, the evidence that the UK faces a significant age discrimination problem stems from a whole range of unsystematic research together with strong anecdotal evidence. There is a need to build on the arrangements which the Government has set in place to monitor the progress of its Code of Practice so that, as the time for legislation approaches and once it is established, systematic and regular monitoring can determine whether or not the problem is getting better and statutory and institutional arrangements can be adjusted accordingly.


  Although I appreciate that this is outside the present remit of the Committee, the implication of the integrated approach suggested above, given the nature of the existing statutes, is that an integrated statute should apply not only to discrimination in employment but also in the provision of goods and services.

  It may be that, if the logic of the integrated approach is accepted, Government might wish to adopt a phased approach to its introduction. In that event, the extension of legislation from employment to goods and services could be achieved on such a phased basis. Whichever way it is done, my view is that legislation should in due course cover all aspects.


  I suggest that, as well as designing the statute itself, there is an important role for Government in preparation for legislation in influencing employer behaviour and attitude about age discrimination. So far this has been limited to the Government's Code of Practice. I believe that a fresh approach should be taken to this task.

  The existing Code was drawn up in a non-legislative context and designed to persuade employers to act on a voluntary basis. The Government's own research, although not as I understand it complete, seems to confirm wider perceptions that the impact has not been major. The prospect of legislation now puts this in a new setting and provides a new opportunity for higher impact.

  It seems to me that the line from Government to employers should be similar to that taken when earlier discrimination statutes on race, equality and disability were being introduced—namely to make employers fully aware that legislation is coming, that there is time to prepare for it and that the employer who does so has nothing to fear from it—and then to set out detailed advice, building on the Code but drawn up in parallel with the Government's plans for the statute.


  The content of legislation will of course depend partly on whether the statute applies only to age or, as suggested above, to all forms of equality.

  Either way, there are some aspects which will be peculiar to age. I would draw the Committee's attention to these matters to the work of the EFA, who some time ago, while remaining neutral on the desirability of legislation, assembled recommendations on the form which any age discrimination legislation should take.

  However, with the advantage of reflection, I would now take the view that a discrimination statute should prohibit mandatory retirement ages. This would be a difficult pill for some employers to swallow, but a few more progressive employers are now starting to show the advantages of operating without compulsory retirement, making the continued employment of individuals, regardless of age, dependent only on an objective assessment of their performance and capability.

  Another difficult issue will be the question of derogations from a statutory requirement in the case of genuine occupations requirement. Examples of actors and air traffic controllers come to mind. I suggest that the guiding principle here should be that such derogations should be tightly drawn, and should not open the door to abuse by enabling employers to act on assumptions about age and capability which are not based on sound evidence and research.

  I hope these comments are helpful and would be happy to amplify them in any way you might wish.

The Carnegie Third Age Programme

January 2001

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