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

The Queen’s Speech

This blog was contributed by Camilla Williamson, Public Affairs Adviser in Age UK’s Public Affairs team.

In advance of the Queen’s Speech Age UK was clear that the most important single element for older people was the social care bill. While a draft bill on social care is some progress, the announcement of legislation now would obviously have been far better. Social care is in crisis – the system is chronically under funded and in urgent need of reform. Without this, too many older and disabled people will be left in desperate circumstances: struggling on alone, many living in misery and fear. With a predicted increase in demands on the system, this situation is only likely to worsen. It is therefore vital that the Government ensures that following the consultation on the draft bill, legislation to reform social care, alongside funding reform, is introduced as a matter of urgency.

On other matters related to people in later life, we were pleased by the announcement of a Pensions Bill to reform the State Pension, creating a fair, simple and sustainable foundation for private saving. We welcome the proposals of the single-tier pension and are very supportive of the aims. However, as proposed, current pensioners would not benefit from any improvements to state pensions. The Government must not forget the 1.8 million older people who are in poverty now.

The Financial Services Bill offers the opportunity to ensure the financial services industry provides safe, fair and accessible products and we believe the Bill should be strengthened to ensure the FCA and Government have the tools they need to address market failure and establish a marketplace in which firms compete to provide all types of consumer with the products and services they need.

The Government also announced a Small Donations Bill which will provide a top-up payment similar to Gift Aid to charities that receive small cash donations of £20 or less, enabling them to claim 25p for every £1 collected in the UK, on up to £5,000 of small donations. This will make a particular difference to smaller local Age UKs and Age UK friends, which as independent charities rely on these kinds of donations to help them to provide a range of support to people in later life.

Find out more about how the legislative programme relates to people in later life

Read our full government and stakeholder briefing