A staggering 90 per cent of Britain is unaware that it is currently legal under UK law for their employer to sack them on the grounds of their age. The findings, released on November 8 by Age Concern/ICM, come as the charity embarks on a major campaign to win business support to challenge ageism.
Nearly a third of over 50s are currently not in a full-time job, yet, they will constitute a third of the population by 2020. If these levels of unemployment continue this could have a devastating impact on the UK economy.
The ICM poll reveals how little the public know about UK employment law. On discovering that employment tribunals would throw out any unfair dismissal claims on the basis of age, 84 per cent respondents supported plans to introduce age discrimination laws in the workplace. Nearly a third believe laws should be introduced as a matter of urgency.
The survey also revealed that 97 per cent of Britons believed employers should rank ‘age’ as the least important criteria when recruiting a new member of staff. Factors like ability (57 per cent) and a good track record (40 per cent) were rated much higher.
Legislation to combat age discrimination in employment will be introduced by 2006 under an EU Directive. This will make it illegal to discriminate against people in the workplace on the grounds of age. The charity wants to work with business and government now to ensure the legislation is robust, whilst recognising that changing attitudes and cultures could take even longer.
Nationwide Building Society’s CEO Phillip Williamson, who supports the Age Concern campaign, debunks the myths around older employees. “I recruited two individuals who were each offered ‘early retirement’ by their employers,” he said. “I hired them because I knew they would bring enormous experience to the workplace and they have both proved extremely good ambassadors for Nationwide.”
Gordon Lishman Age Concern England’s Director General said: “These latest poll figures are a shocking example of how few people know what little protection they have against age discrimination in work. We hear from many talented and skilled individuals who are unemployed in their 50s because of a skewed vision of older workers that ignores the abilities and benefits they can bring to the workplace.
Many business people, he added, have already seen the bigger picture and recognise ageism as a major threat to the UK’s economic growth, ahead of the 2006 legislation. "We hope their business peers recognise their foresight and follow their lead.”