Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from Age Concern Scotland

In what ways and to what extent are older workers treated less favourably than younger workers as a result of their age?

  Through the imposition of age limits in job applications and/or conditions of employment.

  By not being put forward for promotion.

  Selection for redundancy on grounds of age.

  Indirect age discrimination—coercion in the workplace towards early retirement.

  People aged 50+ who experience, or have experienced, redundancy, unemployment or early retirement, continue to find it exceedingly difficult to secure employment commensurate with their skills, qualifications and experience.

  Individuals from certain employment sectors may find it harder than others to find new employment opportunities. People from industries that are youth dominated, such as the IT industry or blue collar industries, may be more likely to suffer from the adverse effects of age discrimination. Older workers can be forced into self-employment or consultancy work as a result of being unable to secure paid employment, but this does not provide sufficient opportunity for all.

  The level of education or academic attainment can also influence prospective employers in the employment of old workers. This may be particularly applicable to women. An over reliance on academic qualifications when recruiting staff can lead to indirect discrimination against older workers who may not have had the same educational opportunities as younger workers. Life-long learning strategies can have within them unreasonable age restrictions, which also act against older people.

  Fixed retirement ages, and a lack of flexible retirement policies, can result in discrimination against older workers. Early retirement disadvantages older workers by reducing their ability to develop adequate pension funds. It is somewhat ironic that Government itself actively discriminates against older workers by fixing age limits and conditions for employment within the Civil Service.

What benefit does promoting age diversity in the workplace offer to employers and employees?

For employers:

  Older workers (50+) can offer long term commitment/loyalty to same employer as they are socially established.

  Higher levels of motivation ie, as evidenced through mature students in higher education.

  Retention of skills and experience.

  Willingness to learn new skills and challenges.

  Lower levels of absenteeism.

  Bring greater social and personal skills and experience ie, having raised families, undertaken responsibilities such as school councils, parents' associations, church activities etc, through established interests and pursuits.

  Knowledge and skills transfer.

  Less work place competition and greater opportunity for team and group working.

For employees:

  A balanced workforce.

  Better prospects for long term health and social involvement.

  Greater opportunity to ensure they have adequate pension provision.

  A feeling of being valued for the work they do resulting in better commitment to the organisation.

  The ability to pass on skills and experience from older workers to younger workers.

In what circumstances (if any) is the use of age as a criterion for the recruitment and retention of employees justified?

  Age should not be the sole criterion for restricting employment opportunities.

How effective is the Government's Code of Practice in promoting age diversity in the workplace?

  This seems to have made little or no impact upon employers, in general.

  The Employers Code of Practice is voluntary and therefore there is considerable work needing to be done to readdress negative attitudes towards older workers, and for employers to understand demographic shifts in the population and how this will impact on their industry or business in the future.

  This question asks about promoting age diversity in the workplace, which raised issues about the recruitment and selection of employees, and the need for monitoring mechanisms to ensure that age equality is applied across the organisation or business concerned. In this instance, it is important to draw lessons from the race and disability equality legislation and practices in employment, and determine how successful these have been in achieving their goals. Similarly, to ensure age equality (as in race, disability and gender) it is crucial that strategies are developed, implemented and evaluated by the most senior management.

  Some organisations do not seek the age of prospective applicants in application forms seeing this as discriminatory. Age Concern Scotland support this practice but at the same time, age monitoring of job applicants and employees should be crucial if we are to satisfy the requirement for an age diverse workforce.

In what ways do other Government policies such as the New Deal help or hinder older workers, especially unemployed job seekers?

  Government policies perpetuate strong images of young people through the media. For example, health campaigns are given upbeat treatment in TV advertising and general media campaigns with greater emphasis on contemporary youth culture and music, in particular. Moreover, the New Deal, and while some would say that this is not producing the anticipated results, has been given higher profile for younger rather than for older people.

  Again, market segmentation is important if it is to reach the target population.

  Government policies, such as the New Deal, may have helped some older people but without the assurances of securing employment (as an outcome of the scheme) as strategies they must be regarded as inadequate. The New Deal 50+ is not an alternative to strong measures to end age discrimination.

Is there a case for anti-discrimination legislation and, if so, what provisions should it include?

  Yes, of course there is a case for anti-discrimination legislation in respect of age.

  It is insufficient to have to rely on broad sweeping measures under equal opportunities or even human rights legislation. Without the legal framework, older people will be treated less favourably.

  Any legislation should make it unlawful to discriminate, directly or indirectly, against people on the grounds of age in terms of employment.

  In addition, the cost to society of age discrimination in employment is significant. The trend towards early retirement loses skills and experience, and places a greater financial burden on pension funds, and state provided sickness, disability and pension benefits. Lack of employment in later working life leads to poorer health in later life, increasing the burden on the state.

  Age discrimination legislation is essential, and guidance alone will never be sufficient, despite economic and demographic pressures on employers to recruit and retain an age diverse workforce. However legislation alone will not change practice and attitudes. It is important to recognise that race and gender discrimination, direct and indirect, still occur, even after decades of legislation.

Age Concern Scotland

February 2001

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Prepared 27 March 2001