This week saw the Women and Equalities Committee publish a report on older people and employment. It did not make for pleasant reading. The report uncovered that more than a million people aged 50+ are seeing their talents overlooked due to age discrimination, bias, and outdated employment practices.
More worrying still, was the conclusion that much of this scenario is the result of the Government and the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s collective failure to enforce the law on age discrimination. Whilst the Committee found advantages to the Government’s employer-led approach, it also discovered that it does not present a strong enough challenge to discriminatory practices or attitudes. The report also concluded that the Government and the EHRC need to be clearer that prejudice, unconscious bias and casual ageism in the workplace are all unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.
The Committee recommends that the EHRC should create a plan to tackle age discrimination in employment, including:
- Action to tackle discrimination in recruitment and the recruitment industry.
- An agreement with the Equality Advisory Support Service to identify and refer claims of age discrimination in employment as a priority for legal support by the Commission.
- Action to examine whether the public sector is complying with its duty to have due regard to the need to eliminate age discrimination under the Public Sector Equality Duty.
Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Maria Miller MP, said:
“Age discrimination in the workplace is a serious problem, as many older people have discovered. Yet despite it being unlawful for more than a decade, the scale and lack of enforcement uncovered by our inquiry is both alarming and totally unacceptable… Until we tackle discrimination against the growing number of over 50s, they will continue to be consigned to the ‘too old’ pile instead of being part of the solution.”
This is a pressing problem. Not least because a third of workers will be over the age of 50 by 2020, while nearly a quarter of the UK population will be aged 65 or over within two decades. Plus, it is simply ridiculous that businesses and organisations are apparently content to overlook the vast array of talent, experience, and emotional intelligence that older employees are able to provide. Furthermore, as the Centre for Ageing Better recently pointed out, “ensuring older workers are able to stay in good-quality employment is essential to the future of the UK economy and will relieve pressure on public finances.”
So how can we tackle the problem? Simon Kelner in the i newspaper argued that larger companies should be made to publish the age profiles of their workforce, just as they currently reveal gender-related pay statistics. Meanwhile, the Women and Equalities Committee report has called on the government to introduce a statutory entitlement for five days’ paid leave for carers, and a longer period of unpaid leave, to help older workers balance work with caring.
From our perspective at Age UK London, the aim is to help businesses and organisations to identify their own unconscious biases against older people through our Age Allies programme. Funded by the City Bridge Trust, the programme provides free age awareness workshops to help organisations to develop age awareness and to understand the consequences of their own attitudes and language. It is our hope that we can start to shape best practice towards older workers and consumers as part of a wider effort to combat age discrimination within businesses and organisations. The findings of the Women and Equalities Committee are a positive step towards this, as is the support their proposals have received in the national media.
Simon Kelner concluded his article by stating “I know there are other injustices we have to fight, but here’s one not being talked about, and which would benefit us all from being tackled.” He definitely has a point: ageism in the workplace is nowhere near as high on the national agenda as it should be. However, that doesn’t mean that no one is talking about it – it’s just that the challenge is getting people to listen!