On 3 March the Government Equalities Office (GEO) announced that it will implement the ban on harmful age discrimination in the provision of goods and services that is set out in the Equality Act 2010. The ban, which is something Age UK and its predecessor charities campaigned long and hard for, will come into effect in 2012. This is very welcome news and represents a major stride forward in the fight against age discrimination.
Alongside this announcement the GEO has also published a consultation setting out its proposals for exemptions to the legislation. These are needed to ensure that where age is used as a beneficial criterion, for example to provide older people with concessionary entrance fees to museums, that this can continue. The proposals on exemptions are very much a tale of two sectors.
The Department of Health has taken a decision not to propose any blanket exemptions to the legislation. Instead, it is choosing to rely on provisions that already exist to allow age-appropriate services such as older people’s mental health services, to continue where the benefit of these can be clearly proven. This sends out an unequivocal message that in the health and social care sectors age discrimination is being taken seriously. In light of recent reports about the failures in the care of older patients in our hospitals this is welcome news and cannot come too soon.
Of course legislation alone will not solve issues of poor treatment – the underlying ageist attitudes also need to be addressed – but it does set the tone and is an important component of the solution.
In stark contrast to the positive reaction of the health and social care sectors, the financial services sector remains opposed to the legislation. It maintains that it does not need to be subject to the legislation because age discrimination is not a problem in this area.
At Age UK we beg to differ. We are contacted on a regular basis by older people who are denied travel and motor insurance solely on the grounds of their age. And these experiences of discrimination stretch beyond the bounds of insurance. We have received calls from people who have been denied mortgages despite being only in their 70s and having secure incomes, and from older bank customers who have been refused services simply on the patronising assumption that they look too old to be able to understand financial matters. Unless the Government can be persuaded to change its mind and, at the very least, narrow the scope of the exemption, blatant age discrimination legislation will be able to continue unchecked in the sector.