Guest blog – Striking a blow against age discrimination

This blog was contributed by Chris Ball, Chief Executive of TAEN – The Age and Employment Network

1st October – UK Older People’s Day and the UN International Day of Older Persons – saw the launch of a petition against age discrimination in the labour market. With age discrimination in employment made unlawful in the UK since 2006, it may come as a surprise to learn that this is needed, yet age discrimination in the job recruitment process seems to be a common experience.

The idea for the petition – led by TAEN – The Age and Employment Network – came after increasing evidence that age discrimination carries on regardless when people are recruited into new jobs.OlderWomanCallCentre

The problem is that age discrimination in recruitment is very hard to prove. So long as we have not eradicated ageist attitudes these can be expressed in the hidden, sometimes unconscious, always irrational prejudices of recruiters. Continue reading “Guest blog – Striking a blow against age discrimination”

Financial services – access all areas?

The Government has taken an important step forward in ensuring that financial services work for older people. It proposed an amendment to the Financial Services Act which, for the first time, gives the regulator a mandate not just to protect consumers, but also to ask whether consumers can access the products and services they need.

Age UK has been calling for the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to be given this ‘access mandate’.  We’ve been convinced of the need for the regulator to look at access because of what we hear from older people – we see many problems caused not just by dangerous products that consumers should be protected from but also because of the lack of products and services that are really accessible to older people.

200x160_moneyBarriers vary:  it could be direct age discrimination – being told you’re ‘too old’ for a mortgage, or credit card, or insurance.  Or it could be indirect, having to jump through so many hoops to find and obtain the right kind of insurance that you give up.   Often the design of services mean they just don’t work for large groups of older people – for example relying on text messages for updates and removing paper statements will make it harder for many older people to manage their money well, the reduction of the branch network and poorly designed telephone and online banking systems will make it almost impossible for others to manage independently at all.
Continue reading “Financial services – access all areas?”

Guest Blog: The involvement of ‘older people’ in research and other projects

This guest blog was contributed by Bill Bytheway, Visiting Research Fellow at the Open University, and author of Unmasking Age (Policy Press, 2011).

On page 124 of my book, ‘Ageism’ (1995), I attempted to describe how ‘a room for older people’ might admit anyone, regardless of age, on the basis of self-definition. I argued that it would be perfectly feasible and acceptable for anyone to enter it, and request services designed to assist ‘older’, rather than ‘younger’, people. In making the case, I remembered a woman of 55 who lived on her own and was in hospital with a broken leg. At the time (the mid-1980s) I was working for a hospital discharge scheme that focused exclusively on patients aged 65 or more. ‘Is there any help available to people like me?’ she asked. It was this simple question which made me realise how ageist all forms of age bar are, no matter how well-intentioned.

The RoAD (Research on Age Discrimination) projectwas undertaken between

The research team and field workers from the RoAD project

2004 and 2007 by a team based at the Open University, working in collaboration with Help the Aged. When we were planning the project, we decided to involve older people at all stages and in all roles and that, in implementing this aim, we would not impose any age bars. No one would be deemed too old or too young to take part. The only requirement was that participants should understand that they were involved, possibly amongst other things, as ‘older people’.

Continue reading “Guest Blog: The involvement of ‘older people’ in research and other projects”

Ban on Age Discrimination

This blog was contributed by Alison Fenney, Age UK’s Equalities and Human Rights Policy Adviser.

Age discrimination is the most common form of discrimination in the UK and Age UK has campaigned long and hard for legislation to deal with this.  The Government’s recent announcement that the ban on age discrimination in the provision of goods and services (with the exception of financial services), will finally come into force on October 1 2012, is therefore very welcome news.

We hope this legislation will herald a sea change in society’s view of older people, a view too often characterised by an emphasis on biological decline and economic burden ignoring the contribution offered by older people in employment, volunteering and in  caring for partners, children and other family members. 

The most positive aspect of this legislation is the impact it will have in health and social care services. For example, in cancer care we know that age is a key factor in determining survival, in part because older people are currently under treated and experience poorer outcomes as a result. The Department of Health itself acknowledges that older people currently receive worse outcomes in treatment of cancer as the result of age discrimination.

We are also expecting to see changes in mental health services which frequently discriminate against older people not offering them access to the range of services available to younger adults despite having the same need.

However the legislation is not an unmitigated cause for celebration. The wide exception that has been granted to the financial services industry is very disappointing. This exception means that older people can for example still be discriminated against when trying to obtain insurance or banking services purely on the basis of their age.

We accept providers of risk-related services should be able to use age to assess risk and decide price provided that they can supply evidence that they are doing so in a way that is proportionate to risk. However we do not feel that the exception will ensure that this condition is met. We know that ageism in financial services causes worry and distress for many older people, limiting their choices and increasing costs. We will therefore continue to press for financial services to be subject to the ban and urge the Government to keep the impact of this exception under close scrutiny.

Overall the legislation is very welcome, requiring those providing services to consider their practices and policies in relation to older people. However by itself, it will not be sufficient to change negative attitudes towards ageing.  Ultimately we need to learn how to value older people better, appreciating their talents and not just seeing a date on a passport. The ban on age discrimination is a welcome step towards this.

Age UK is pressing to ensure goods, services and job opportunities are accessible to people of all ages and from all communities. Find out more about our equalities and human rights work.

Read more about age discrimination

Beyond the headline, Seldon judgement is a victory for older workers

Yesterday the Supreme Court handed down its judgement on the case of Leslie Seldon, a solicitor who took on his employers over the legitimacy of its forced retirement policy.

It lands a blow in the fight against age discrimination, cementing the abolition of the Default Retirement Age and making it clear that it will be very difficult for employers to justify forced retirement.

But in order to see its potential impact, we need to look beyond the headlines.

While Mr Seldon had his appeal dismissed, and parts of his case will have to be re-examined by an Employment Tribunal, much of the judgement is a significant victory for those of us who believe that everyone should be treated equally regardless of age.

The majority of the judgement relates not to Mr Seldon’s specific case, but to the principles on which direct age discrimination can be allowed.

While it is still possible to justify discrimination (this was never really in doubt), the new ruling ensures there are additional safeguards which should protect older workers against forced retirement and direct age discrimination.

The Seldon judgement raises the bar on the level of proof needed by employers if they wish to force someone to retire, setting out that employers will have to meet a number of tests in order to prove that their aim in discriminating is ‘appropriate and necessary’.

Some key points here are:

  • The employers objectives in forcing someone to retire will have to relate directly to government policy rather than being simply private.
  • The policy aims must have a genuine application to the individual’s situation, and cannot be crudely tacked on to window-dress justification.
  • The ‘gravity of the effect upon the employees discriminated against’ should be considered.
  • Flexibility for the employer is not a legitimate aim (although it can be a relevant factor in some circumstances).
  • Forced retirement has to be proven as the least discriminatory means possible to achieve the legitimate aim.
  • Performance management should be used wherever possible rather than making assumptions relating to age.

An employer will not, as is being reported in some media, simply be able to say that they are retiring someone ‘to promote intergenerational fairness’ – while this may be a legitimate aim in some circumstances, a substantial level of proof is required to ensure it genuinely applies to the particular role in question, and that there is no better way of achieving this objective.

Crucially the judgement effectively rubbishes the argument that it’s more dignified to force someone out of work than have ‘unseemly’ conversations about capability. Again, this can be a legitimate aim but in most cases it will simply be stereotyping.

Overall it seems the Supreme Court has handed down a balanced and fair judgement, which sets the level of proof needed for direct discrimination at an appropriate and fair level.

While the judgement does continue to allow the justification of age discrimination, we are optimistic that it serves the interests of many older workers.

Of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and we will have to wait and see how this is all interpreted in the Employment Tribunals and lower level courts.

In any case, we hope that employers do not go down the route of attempting to justify discrimination. Instead, investing resources in developing good age-neutral management systems will improve performance of staff across the workforce while delivering other business benefits like improved staff retention and better utilisation of skills. 

Helping employers do this is where the Government’s emphasis should now lie.

Read a blog by The Age and Employment Network about the Seldon case

Find out more about Age UK’s equality and human rights work

Scrapping the Default Retirement Age – is this the end of age discrimination in the workplace?

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. Continue reading “Scrapping the Default Retirement Age – is this the end of age discrimination in the workplace?”

Beating Breast Cancer: several reasons to celebrate

Sometimes in life it’s really important to take a step back and make sure we appreciate the good news stories as well as highlight where things have gone wrong. With that in mind, reports this week of a 100-year-old woman successfully beating breast cancer after undergoing surgery is definitely something to celebrate.

The cause for celebration is not just that Mrs Affleck is recovering well after her operation (a wonderful outcome and we wish her very well indeed) it’s that her medical team seem to have done everything right. This might seem a very obvious and somewhat patronising statement on the face of it. What else would we expect from a professional medical team? But equally, given what we know about age discrimination in treatment and care, I think it does warrant a moment to reflect. Not every story has such a happy outcome.

Stories of age discrimination in health care are unfortunately all too common. Cancer care in particular has come in for serious criticism in the past few years. As data sets have improved, meaning we know more and more about people diagnosed and treated for cancer, it has become increasingly apparent that older people are losing out.

Recent evidence suggests that cancers are more likely to be diagnosed late and patients are less likely to be offered a full range of treatment. Admittedly more work is needed to fully understand why this happens, but age appears to be the overriding factor.

Clinicians are making assumptions about medical health based on preconceptions about age rather than actual health status. Indeed in her statement Mrs Affleck points out that she was left frightened by the prospect of a painful death as she’d been told no one would operate on someone her age.

Luckily in this case her surgeon decided to take another view, assessing her as being in good enough health and, even more importantly, taking into account Mrs Affleck’s own views about what was right for her.

There are all sorts of things to take into account when deciding on the right course of treatment, including someone’s general health and fitness, the impact it might have on other conditions and medications and people’s own preferences and choices. However the number of candles on the person’s last birthday cake is not one of them.

Full statements by Mrs Affleck and her surgeon are available on the BBC website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-14732945