Older people and employment Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The impact of age discrimination on employment

1.Ageism remains a significant problem within British society and is affecting the ability of people to continue working into later life, despite long-standing laws against age discrimination. Discrimination in recruitment is a significant problem and the public sector is not leading the way in the retention of older workers when it should be. (Paragraph 28)

2.The Equality and Human Rights Commission is right to be concerned by the low numbers of age discrimination claims being brought to it, but given its ambition to become a ‘muscular regulator’ we are surprised that it is not taking more action to remedy this. We recommend that the Commission develop a clear plan to tackle age discrimination in employment. This plan should include:

a)Action to tackle discrimination in recruitment and the recruitment industry, using the evidence of age discrimination in job advertising that it holds as a result of its enforcement work in this area to identify the sectors with the worst record;

b)An agreement with the Equality Advisory Support Service to identify and refer claims of age discrimination in employment as a priority for legal support by the Commission; and

c)Action to examine whether the public sector is complying with its duty to have due regard to the need to eliminate age discrimination under the Public Sector Equality Duty. (Paragraph 29)

3.The failure of the Government to include action to improve compliance with the Equality Act 2010 in its Fuller Working Lives strategy is a significant omission. We recommend that it engage with the Equality and Human Rights Commission with a view to agreeing enforcement actions that can be included as specific commitments in the strategy. (Paragraph 30)

4.Older people are not a homogenous group, and public policy must be developed in a way that recognises the many and varied needs and aspirations of the ageing population. (Paragraph 35)

5.The decision not to commence section 14 of the Equality Act 2010 means that the true nature of the discrimination facing older women, older disabled people and older people from black and minority ethnic communities may not be being brought to light in case law. We recommend that the Government commission research into the extent of this problem as part of its evidence base for Fuller Working Lives. (Paragraph 36)

6.Our evidence suggests that age bias, and probably even illegal discrimination, is a significant problem in our society and particularly in recruitment. This is not a problem for the recruitment industry alone, but the failure of that industry to take more robust action has a significant impact on older people’s ability to access work. The failure of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to use its extensive powers of investigation in the face of a growing body of evidence has to be addressed swiftly, particularly in light of potential reduction in inward migration as a result of leaving the European Union. (Paragraph 39)

7.The Government should work with representatives of the recruitment industry to develop a plan of action to ensure that outdated stereotypes do not cause illegal age discrimination in recruitment. This should include the collection and publication of data on the age profiles of job seekers and those finding work. The EHRC should submit to us a clear plan of action including specific timeframes to investigate, intervene and enforce the law which prohibits discrimination based on age. (Paragraph 40)

8.Data transparency can be an invaluable tool in understanding whether changes to policy and practice are having the desired effect—for both Government and employers. It can also encourage open discussions about age in the workplace (Paragraph 46)

9.We recommend that the Government introduce mandatory regulations to require all public-sector employers, and private and voluntary sector employers with more than 250 staff, to publish the age profile of their workforce. (Paragraph 47)

Flexible and adaptable workplaces

10.This Committee and its predecessor have recommended that all jobs should be available on flexible terms unless an employer can demonstrate an immediate and continuing business case against doing so. Such an approach is central to enabling parents, carers and older workers to participate in the labour market on an equal basis. Given the mounting evidence collected by this Committee in the course of three inquiries the Government has to act and act now. (Paragraph 60)

11.In response to gender pay gap figures published in October 2017, the Prime Minister called for companies to make flexible working a reality for all employees by advertising all jobs as flexible from day one, unless there are solid business reasons not to. The review of this policy is some time away from being completed. We recommend that the Government seek to legislate now to ensure that all new jobs are advertised as flexible from day one, unless the employer can demonstrate an immediate and continuing business case against doing so. (Paragraph 61)

12.We recommend that the Civil Service and public services immediately introduce a right to flexible working from day one for both new and existing roles, except where an immediate and continuing business case against doing so can be demonstrated (Paragraph 62)

13.We believe that the case for a modest amount of paid leave for working carers is compelling. Equally, the case for a right to take unpaid leave—rather than falling out of the workforce with the associated difficulties of re-joining it—is overwhelming. This exists for parents: unpaid parental leave gives employees who have been employed by their company for one year an entitlement to a maximum of four weeks’ unpaid leave per child per year, during which time employment rights are protected. We can see no reason why such provision should not extend to those providing unpaid care to adults. (Paragraph 70)

14.We recommend that the Government put unpaid leave for working carers on a par with that for parents, and introduce a statutory right to four weeks of unpaid carer’s leave per year. The effectiveness of unpaid carer’s leave should be monitored by collecting data on take-up and the reasons for take-up. (Paragraph 71)

15.We recommend that the Government introduce an additional five days of paid carer’s leave, available to all working carers regardless of employment type. (Paragraph 72)

16.We recommend that the Government review the services provided by the Fit for Work scheme to ensure that it is meeting the needs of small and medium employers who may not otherwise have access to professional occupational health services. (Paragraph 78)

17.The work of the Government Business Champion, and the employer-led approach, provide a real opportunity to harness the expertise of those, often large, employers that have had opportunities to think creatively about how to create age-friendly workplaces. This includes, but is not limited to, building the confidence of employers to have potentially sensitive conversations about flexible working, caring responsibilities and retirement planning. (Paragraph 82)

18.We recommend that the Government work with Andy Briggs, the Business Champion for Older Workers, and Business in the Community to establish and promote a mentoring scheme for employers, supporting those who may otherwise lack the expertise or capacity to create age-friendly workplaces. This should prioritise support for small and medium employers, using the good practice and resources of larger employers, and facilitate access to Government support. (Paragraph 83)

19.We recommend that the Government require departments to incorporate a set of age-friendly employment standards, including rights to flexible working from day one, carer’s leave and a mid-life career review, into all new policies and contracts affecting the terms and conditions of employment for public sector workers. (Paragraph 85)

A workforce for the future

20.Mid-life career reviews can act as an effective tool in financial and career planning, both of which are important to preventing people falling out of the workforce, or finding themselves trapped in unfulfilling employment. Promoting access to such reviews should form an important part of the mentoring scheme for employers that we have recommended. (Paragraph 89)

21.Through the introduction of Older Claimant Champions the Government has recognised the need for Jobcentre Plus to develop the awareness and skills to provide specialised support to older jobseekers. But this is not translating into widespread good practice on the ground. We recommend that the Government undertake a review of the specialist support available to older people through the Jobcentre Plus network, including the role of the Older Claimant Champions, and develop an action plan to improve both the content and availability of such support. (Paragraph 95)

22.The Government has recognised the need for a more strategic approach to skills development in the UK, and emerging initiatives are welcome. However, these fall short of a national skills strategy and lack specific, explicit attention to the needs of older workers and the barriers they face. We recommend that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy develop a national skills strategy, with a focus on life-long learning, as part of taking forward the Industrial Strategy. This must include specific consideration of the needs of older workers, explicitly challenging assumptions that certain forms of training are only for young people, and must look at ways to make access to training and skills development a truly life-long opportunity. (Paragraph 103)

Government policy

23.The Government’s Fuller Working Lives strategy and the employer-led approach are positive developments, as is the recognition of the ageing population as one of the ‘grand challenges’ in the Industrial Strategy. We are not, however, convinced that sufficient thought has gone into ensuring that overlaps between policies do not become duplications. For example, it is unclear how the role of the proposed BEIS Business Champion under the Industrial Strategy would differ from that of Andy Briggs, the existing Government Business Champion for Older Workers. If these policies are not more clearly connected, the Government risks a plethora of unconnected, uncoordinated micro-initiatives that can alienate, rather than engage, business. (Paragraph 114)

24.Further work is needed to reach smaller employers, and to develop complementary measures to address the issues that cannot be left to employers—primarily age bias and discrimination and the kind of life-long learning and support that can enable career change. (Paragraph 115)

25.We recommend that the Government revisit its own actions in the Fuller Working Lives strategy to ensure that all the individual initiatives are connected to the overall strategy, and to other significant policy areas such as the Industrial Strategy. The strategy should also be updated to specifically address those areas that are best led by the Government rather than employers—including age discrimination—and that it refreshes its action planning under Fuller Working Lives to incorporate the recommendations of this report. (Paragraph 116)

Published: 17 July 2018