Ageing population has 'taken ministers by surprise'

A senior Labour peer warned yesterday that Government policy on the increasingly ageing population is "profoundly mistaken".

Lord Peston accused ministers of failing to meet the challenges presented by improved life expectancy, and of not doing enough to eradicate ageism in the workplace. He said a new approach was urgently needed on retirement, pensions and the funding of higher education.

The peer, who chairs the Lords Economic Affairs Committee, opened a debate on the economic aspects of an ageing population, saying: "We live in an ageist society and it is a society that has not adjusted to increased life expectancy."

Many private firms had an arbitrary age limit when scrutinising job applications, Lord Peston told the committee. In the public sector, Government was flexible over short-term contracts but "very inflexible" on mandatory retirement age.

He said: "Life expectancy is not only increasing but it has been increasing for some time. It is bewildering to be told that all sorts of groups in society - particularly actuaries - are taken by surprise that people are living longer ... The notion that somehow this is a bad thing and is a problem is about the most absurd thing that anybody could dream up."