Memorandum from Age Concern
1. Age Concern England (the National Council
on Ageing) brings together Age Concern organisations and groups
working together at local level and 100 national bodies, including
charities, professional bodies and representational groups with
an interest in older people and ageing issues. Through our national
information line, which receives 285,000 telephone and postal
inquiries a year, and the information services offered by local
Age Concern organisations, we are in day-to-day contact with older
people and their concerns.
2. Age Concern is strongly committed to
the principle of age equality, whose adoption is integral to achieving
an equal society where everyone is valued and respected whatever
his or her personal circumstances or background.
3. Age Concern has for some years advocated
the introduction of comprehensive age equality legislation in
the United Kingdom. We welcomed the publication of the Code of
Practice on age diversity in 1999 as a positive first step taken
by the UK Government to combat ageism in the workplace. Nevertheless,
Age Concern believes that a clear legislative framework is needed
alongside a change in culture and attitudes if age equality is
to be achieved. Such legislation should not only cover employment.
It is important that older people are treated equally in the health
service and other public services, and in relation to access to
and provision of goods and services in the consumer market.
4. In the employment field our experience
shows that many people experience discrimination in their working
life because of their age. We have received many personal testimonies
of this experience, from all parts of the countryand from
people no older than 43 (a marketing manager denied promotion
because of her age) and even 32 (a man who was told that he was
too old to be security officer). In 1998 a nationwide survey revealed
that 79 per cent of workers over 50 believed that they had been
rejected for a job because they were too old, even though they
had the right skills for the job.
5. As the Committee will know, on 17 October
the European Union adopted a Directive on discrimination in employment.
It obliges member states to introduce legislation against both
direct and indirect age discrimination in employment by 2006 at
the latest. The same time limit applies to discrimination by disability
although discrimination on other grounds (religion and sexual
orientation) must be outlawed by 2003.
6. When the Directive was being drawn up
Age Concern worked hard to persuade the European Parliament and
Commission, and ministers, to remove many exemptions which appeared
to allow too much latitude for member states to allow age discrimination
in employment to continue. The final Directive, to Age Concern's
regret, retained many of these exemptions and allowed a three-year
delay (subject to reporting obligations on member states) in the
implementation of the provisions relating to age discrimination.
In November Age Concern gave evidence to the House of Lords European
Sub-Committee F on the Directive. This evidence, together with
the replies from the Department for Education and Employment,
7. Age Concern has expressed the hope to
ministers and officials that the UK Government will not exploit
the potential loopholes in the Directive nor take the full six
years to implement the age provisions.
8. The Committee may wish to note that the
institutions of the European Union continue to take an interest
in the issue of age discrimination in employment. For example,
the Employment and Social Affairs Committee of the European Parliament
recently drew up a report on the Commission document "Towards
a Europe for all agespromoting prosperity and intergenerational
solidarity" (the Sbarbati report). Paragraph 6 suggested
that "the proposal for a Council directive establishing a
general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation
is not an adequate means of guaranteeing the rights of older people"
and it called on the Commission "submit a proposal for a
directive on the basis of Article 13, for the specific purpose
of combating age-based discrimination."
9. In December last year, the European Ombudsman
completed an inquiry into the upper age limit of 45 for entry
competitions for posts in the European Commission. Although he
was satisfied that the Commission was making enough progress to
abolish the limit he suggested that he might launch an inquiry
into age limits for recruitment for other European institutions.
10. However, the most important development
since the Directive has been the adoption by member states of
the new EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Article 14 (1), 15(1)
and 21(1) are relevant to the on-going debate on age discrimination.
Article 14(1): "Everyone has the right to
education and to have access to vocational and continuing training".
Article 15(1): "Everyone has the right to
engage in work and to pursue a freely chosen or accepted occupation."
Article 21(1); "Any discrimination based
on any ground such as . . . age . . . shall be prohibited."
Although the precise status of the new Charter
is not established, during the coming years it is possible that
European jurisprudence may interpret and apply these Articles
in ways which may have consequences for the United Kingdom.
THE UK EXPERIENCE:
11. On 6 November Baroness Blackstone replied
to Parliamentary Questions from Lord Lester of Herne Hill on the
current Code of Practice on Age Diversity in Employment. The replies
suggested that in its first six months the Code had achieved a
fall in the proportion of employers taking age into considerationfrom
27 per cent to 16 per centand a fall in the proportion
of people over 50 reporting personal experience of age discrimination
in employmentfrom 26 to 20 per cent.
12. Although these figures are welcome,
Age Concern believes that age discrimination is still unacceptably
high if practised by one is six employers and experienced by one
in five older peopleespecially in the tightest labour market
for many years.
13. In the view of Age Concern the Code
of Practice has had an important role in changing the behaviour
and attitudes of employers, and will continue to do so, but we
believe that this role needs to be supplemented by legislation.
THE UK EXPERIENCE:
14. Apart from the individual loss for older
people, which is psychological as well as financial, age discrimination
is a source of lost output and tax revenue for the nation. The
Cabinet Office PIU report Winning The Generation Game recently
estimated these losses as £16 billion and £3 to £5
billion each year. The Employers Forum on Age has produced even
higher estimates, of £26 billion and £5.5 billion. The
Committee may wish to seek further evidence on this issue.
15. We believe that national, devolved and
local government, and other agencies such as Regional Development
Agencies and Learning and Skills Councils, should collect more
accurate statistics about older adults and monitor more closely
their participation rates not only in formal paid work or business
but as volunteers, carers and in education, training, cultural
and recreational activities.
16. If age discrimination in employment
continues, its economic costs will escalate with the ageing of
the UK population. A third of the population is now aged over
45 and this figure is projected to rise to almost 40 per cent
over the next 10 years. In 2021 there will be fewer younger people
entering the labour market: 6.8 million people aged 16-24 compared
to 8 million in 1991. By 2026, people aged 55 to 64 will form
the largest group of people of working age8.6 million or
24 per cent compared to the 1996 levels of 5.6 million and 15
per cent. These projected developments make it all the more vital
for the United Kingdom to obtain the maximum possible output from
each age group in its workforce.
THE UK EXPERIENCE:
17. From the evidence of first-hand testimonies
and of special research projects. Age Concern as become particularly
aware of the cultural attitudes which reinforce age discrimination.
These attitudes influence not only employers but many employees
and would-be employees, including older people themselves.
18. The ageist attitudes embedded in our
society cascade into our employment and for the most part appear
to be unrecognised and hidden. Our experience, from workshops
in our current Age Diversity project, suggests that older workers
suffer from negative stereotyping at all kinds of employment,
including decision-makers and workers themselves. These negative
stereotypes include being unable to grasp new ideas and cope with
change, poor health, slow learning, technophobia, coasting to
19. A particularly disconcerting aspect
of ageism in employment is the internalised oppression which it
can generate. Within the cycle of age discrimination "younger"
people can come to believe the ageist attitudes while "older"
people can internalise them and sometimes become the very things
of which they are accused.
20. The actual experience of companies which
practise age diversity in their workforce has been very different
from the negative stereotyping. Recent research by the Employers
Forum on Age has suggested major benefits to businesses which
adopt such an approach. They include reduced business costs through
increased productivity, recruiting the best people for jobs from
the outset, gains in experience and knowledge which can be shared
throughout the business, and greater ability to match the profile
of their customers and satisfy their wants.
21. Age Concern believes that legislation
to end age discrimination in employment should take an approach
which best meets the distinctive needs of the United Kingdom,
and that it should be accompanied by other initiatives to empower
older people in the labour market and the workplace and to encourage
the best practices by employers of all kinds.
22. Legislation should also act as a catalyst
to change society's attitudes to older people and challenge the
cultural attitudes which engender direct and indirect discrimination.
In these ways, legislation has a symbolic value which a code of
Practice cannot achieve. Unlike a Code, it also provides a remedy
for victims of discrimination.
23. Given the terms of the European Directive,
there are two possible approaches to legislation. One is to introduce
legislation piecemeal, for each of the areas mentioned: religion,
belief, disability and age. The other is to introduce an omnibus
measure covering all the areas together. We favour the second
approach for two reasons. First, as a matter of broad principle
we prefer to avoid legislation which suggests that older people
are a class apart in society (even when it is designed to protect
them). Second, although omnibus legislation would be more complicated
and would require redefinition of some existing agencies, we believe
that it is necessary to meet the needs of older people who suffer
double or even triple discrimination (such as minority ethnic
older women). Whatever legislative approach is adopted it will
need to be accompanied by initiatives to strengthen access to
new rights by minority communities.
24. Apart from legislation against age discrimination
in employment, we believe that there should be greater Government
investment in partnership initiatives to address age issues. The
Age Concern Training/Employers Forum on Age training course is
one example of such an initiative which promotes age diversity.
25. There is also a need to address the
following issues in ways which help older people seek, find or
remain in work:
(a) the financial penalties which may result
from older people choosing to work rather than retire, in terms
of state benefits or pension entitlements;
(b) recruitment and selection;
(c) pay and conditions of employment (including
access to pensions, life and health insurance and similar benefits);
(d) retirement issues, including selection
and inflexible practices;
(e) the extension of unfair dismissal protection
to workers over 65 (a matter now under legal challenge in Rutherford
v Harvest Town Circle Ltd);
(f) access to training and development opportunitiesincluding
access to career development loans which frequently have an age
ceiling of 50;
(g) access to workplaces for people with
(h) access to health initiatives in the workplace,
such as screening programmes;
(i) promotion opportunities: our experience
suggests that some employers consider it wasteful to promote older
(j) access to family friendly policies which
reflect the needs of older workers (such as care for an elder
dependant or access to grandchildren).
26. Finally, alongside anti-discrimination
legislation, we believe that the Government should also consider
how best to encourage flexible retirement ages, and flexible working
practices as people approach retirement, and how to encourage
further positive actions by employers, such as reporting on the
age diversity of their workforce and providing advice, for example
on financial planning, which is appropriate to all age ranges
in their workforce.
Age Concern England
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