Saturday 1 October could be the day Britain finally turns its back on age discrimination in the workplace once and for all. It’s the day that the Default Retirement Age, which gave employers the right to fire people aged 65 and over purely because of their age, is abolished.
From this date, for the first time, people over 65 will get full employment rights, ending the grossly unfair policy of employers being able without reason to remove someone from their workforce for the simple reason of their age.
The end of the DRA is the result of several years of campaigning by Age UK, and is a welcome victory for individual choice and economic independence – important principles in a modern liberal democracy.
Jobseekers over 50 statistically find it harder to find a job than any other age group, and there are now over 100,000 people in this age group who have been out of work for 2 years or more.
This is both a human tragedy and a tragic waste of valuable skills and talent. By removing the ‘best before’ date for workers, we hope that the ageist cultures endemic in many workplaces will finally be a thing of the past.
In addition, we firmly believe abolishing the DRA will benefit businesses. Too many employers are sadly short-sighted in their employment practices, and being forced to properly manage their older workers will, over time, enable them to recognise how their skills and experience can directly benefit their business.
Similarly, having to be more open-minded about age will also help employers in recruitment, opening up for many an entirely new demographic section of the workforce, among which is a vast pool of skills and knowledge waiting to be tapped into.
By coincidence, 1 October also represents the fifth anniversary of the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations, which came into force on 1 October 2006. While this nominally extended some rights and made age discrimination illegal, it also introduced the Default Retirement Age – effectively undermining the rest of the provisions by giving employers a ‘get out of jail free’ card, allowing them to be complacent about addressing the issue and improving their workplaces.
We are optimistic that abolishing the DRA will be the start of a sea change in attitudes towards older workers so that in the near future ageism becomes as unacceptable in the workplace as racism or sexism. But changing organisational policy is one thing, changing how a business operates is quite another. While HR departments may have made some improvements since 2006, the message about being ‘age-friendly’ has, all too often, not got through to line managers. This is crucial as it is in the engine room of a business, not necessarily the board room, where ageism is most persistent.
Today is a major step in the battle to end age discrimination in the workplace. But it will take a clearer statement from the Government – that age discrimination in any form will not be tolerated – for the message to really be embraced by many of Britain’s employers.