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


Memorandum from the Association of Retired and Persons Over 50

  1.  The Association of Retired and Persons Over 50 (ARP/050) is a national membership organisation with more than 80,000 members and 200 Friendship Centres around the United Kingdom. Membership of the organisation, although open to everyone, mainly comprises people who have held, or continue to hold, professional and managerial positions. As would be expected, many members take a keen interest in social policy issues and since its inception in 1988 the organisation has worked both publicly and behind the scenes to gain legislation against all forms of ageism.

  2.  It is recognised that the remit of the Committee concerns only age discrimination in employment and the question it has set itself to address fall within those parameters. This organisation, which provides the secretariat for the cross organisational body campaigning on this aspect of ageism, equal rights on age, fully sympathises with the need to set limited objectives in the present context.

  3.  Having said this a number of points should, in our view, be taken into account.

    —  Current developments in Europe have resulted in the Government setting a period of six years to introduce workplace legislation. This is, in our view, far too long and looks suspiciously like procrastination—particularly given the letter written to the Executive Director of this organisation in 1995 (Annex 1) which states categorically that Labour would treat the introduction of legislation as a priority if successful in the next election. This assurance was reiterated by The Prime Minister on 2 December 1998 when, in response to a question posed by Quentin Davies MP asking whether he still stood by the earlier promise he replied, "Yes, we stand by it".

    —  The view frequently expressed by those opposed to or suspicious of legislation is that it "doesn't work". Extraordinarily, examples are taken from our own legislation relating to race and sex to prove this point, although there is a reluctance to cite the most recent legislation on disability. The criteria upon which this judgement is based are extremely narrow and frequently uninformed. Legislation relating to human behaviour has both an immediate and a longer-term outcome. On enactment it immediately provides a benchmark against which behaviour can be measured, it is a standard to which society, by consent, aspires. Over time, through awareness and enforcement attitudes begin to change. Every one of the public health acts introduced in the 19th and early 20th centuries was vigorously opposed. Now it is unnecessary to remind people it is against the law to spit on buses. Attitudes change.

    —  Although legislation currently being discussed relates only to the workplace, this can be understood given the economic implications of demographic change and the need to facilitate means whereby older people can be enticed back into the workforce. However, it must not be overlooked that to age in our society is to experience discrimination in many ways. We strongly recommend that the Committee add a rider to its conclusions stating that legislation in the workplace, however desirable, must be seen as a precursor to the elimination of ageism across a much wider field and in particular in the provision of goods and services.

    —  There is evidence that there is considerable support in the House of Commons for this wider view. During 1998 this organisation conducted a survey of opinion among MPs and 49 per cent of those who returned the questionnaire supported legislation. A summary of the results is provided (Annex 2). In 2000 a Ten Minute Rule Bill introduced by Lawrie Quinn MP calling for an Age Equality Commission resulted, when put to the vote, in support from 200 MPs (Annex 3).[30]

    —  The European Draft Council establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation, referred to above is, in its present form unsatisfactory in that certain key clauses remain to be inserted. Article 6 is cause for particular concern. Article 6(c), for example, is missing and in places wording is ambiguous. The Article refers in its introduction to the fact that discrimination may be permitted if differences of treatment on grounds of age "are objectively and reasonably justified under national law by a legitimate aim". The question immediately arises "What is a legitimate aim". Such statements are little more than a loophole for the inclusion of policy aims that allow discrimination. In Article 6(d) it is stated that "the fixing of a maximum age for recruitment which is based on the training requirements of the post in question or the need for a reasonable period of employment before retirement". What is "a reasonable period of employment?" The Government appears set to not only endorse an inadequate policy but to defer its implementation for six years. On both counts that is entirely unsatisfactory. We recommend that the Committee call for considerable clarification before any such clauses are ratified.

  4.  The Committee will receive evidence from interested parties on all sides and the measure of agreement concerning the introduction of legislation relating to employment, in spite of the challenge it presents, will, perhaps, be surprising. It would be of considerable regret however if in celebrating agreement on the economic aspects of the matter the moral questions concerning ageism in its wider sense, which blights the lives of so many in their later years, were set aside.

The Association of Retired and Persons Over 50

January 2001

30   Not printed. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 27 March 2001