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Is Age the Last Socially Acceptable Way to Discriminate?

Sep 20, 2018

by Kimberley Wallace, Consultant
0333 400 7920 | kim@employassisthr.co.uk



It has been unlawful for employers to discriminate against a person based on their age since 2006 when The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations made it unlawful to discriminate, harass or victimise employees, trainees, and job applicants on the basis of age (old or young). 

This act was merged into The Equality Act in 2010, which saw ‘age’ established as a ‘protected characteristic’ along with eight other attributes including ‘disability’, ‘sex’ and ‘race’ 

The Equality Act is aimed at providing fairness in employment for a diverse workforce. Since 2010 we have also seen the removal of the default retirement age in 2011, meaning employers could no longer use age as a reason for dismissal. 

Despite all this legislation preventing age discrimination, recent statistics show that older workers may still not be getting a fair deal in the workplace. I’ve seen a number of statistics in recent weeks that emphasises how much age discrimination still seems to be an underlying issue in the modern workplace. These statistics include:   

  • 1.2 million over 50’s are unemployed;
  • Almost half of older workers believe their age will hold them back when applying for a job;
  • A third of older workers believe they have been offered fewer opportunities for training and progression because of their age;
  • 44% of older workers feel unsupported by their employers in relation to their career ambitions.

With declining birth rates, longer life expectancy and diminishing pension provisions, the profile of the UK labour market is changing:

  • The number of UK workers aged 50+ has increased by 20% since 2012;
  • The percentage of workers aged 65 and over has doubled in the last decade;
  • By 2020 a third of workers will be over 50;
  • In 20 years, almost a quarter of the UK population will be aged 65 or over. 

As life expectancy in the UK increases people will need to be economically active for longer.

People who choose to work into older age may face many obstacles when continuing to work; physical and practical challenges, cultural and psychological barriers, organisational limitations. 

Whilst older workers can be viewed positively and associated with qualities such as strong work ethics, reliability, and experience; there are still negative typecasts made about older workers such as lower performance, less efficien​cy, not being adaptable and more likely to be absence due to ill-health. It’s time for organisations to consider what they can do to make their workplace more inclusive, supportive, and rewarding for older workers.  

What Can You Do to Prevent Age Discrimination at Your Workplace?

Age discrimination can be embedded in the workplace. Although the law prohibits age discrimination, you can help change attitudes by ensuring that:

  • Your business has developed an Equality and Diversity policy to prevent and discourage age discrimination;
  • Your existing processes or policies do not discriminate or favour any particular age groups;
  • Job opportunities, development and training is offered fairly to staff of all age groups;
  • You encourage staff to speak out when age discrimination arises;
  • You encourage your managers to take a strong lead on age discrimination;
  • You emphasise that age discrimination is prohibited by law;
  • Your business is attractive and feasible to work for to older workers;
  • A flexible working culture is embedded;
  • An age-diverse workforce is created and encouraged.

If you need professional HR support, please contact us on 0333 400 7920 or email enquiries@employassisthr.co.uk.

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