Ageism still rife in the UK

Dec 03 2002 by Brian Amble Print This Article

One in five workers in the UK has suffered discrimination in the workplace with by far the biggest proportion (38 per cent) being on grounds of age, according to Government research released today.

Released to coincide with the launch of ‘Age Positive’ week starting on December 2, the MORI poll for the Department for Work and Pensions is the latest in a long line of surveys showing the extent to which ageism is rife in the UK.

The most common form of discrimination ocurred at the recruitment stage, but ageism was also reported in selection for promotion and training.

In November, Age Concern revealed that 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.

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.

In response to this demographic time-bomb, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has called for the mandatory retirement age to be abolished.

”Many organisations are still stuck in a mindset that older workers are ‘past it’ or they believe that older workers should be at work all the time or not at all.

This is very short-sighted - we know that people are very often willing to be flexible in the last few years of their working lives and organisations would benefit tremendously from the skills and experience of these experienced workers,’ said the CIPD’s adviser on diversity, Dianah Worman.

The Employers Forum on Age, a body that includes some of the UK's biggest employers, such as BT, BUPA, Sainsbury's, HSBC and Tesco, are also calling for the relaxation of current Inland Revenue rules that obstruct employers seeking to offer pensions flexibility to employees. They have suggested radical measures calling for the government to recognise the importance of changing lifestyles that, combined with demographic change, make the traditional model of working and retirement out of date.

Ms Sam Mercer, campaign director of the EFA, says: “Pensions should be regarded as a vital recruitment and retention vehicle and as such, need to accommodate flexible working.”

In 2006, EU-based legislation outlawing discrimination by age in the workplace will enter the UK legal system. But Dianah Worman says that organisations should start to change their attitudes now.

”We are a few years away from this legislation, but there is no reason at all why organisations should carry on making people retire at a pre-determined, arbitrary age. You cannot put an age limit on talent and enthusiasm and it’s time we stopped writing off people because of their birth date.”