Leading article: Outdated age discrimination

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The Independent Online

When the Government scrapped the mandatory retirement age for civil servants in October, they were lauded for being progressive. After all, we live in a society with lengthening life expectancy. People over 60 are more active than ever before. So it is only right that the state recognise this. Indeed, it would be hypocrisy to send 65-year-old civil servants home for good while the House of Commons is packed with 89 MPs over the retirement age and the House of Lords is often referred to as Britain's most expensive retirement home.

This, however, turns out to be yet another area in which a double standard – one for the government and another for the governed – applies. Britain still has a statutory retirement age of 65 which provides a legal basis for some businesses to turf out employees who might otherwise continue working. This iniquity is currently the subject of a legal challenge by Help the Aged and Age Concern who want the statutory age scrapped immediately.

Yesterday, the European Court of Justice ruled that the policy might be legal, but the Government must defend their position in the High Court. That our retirement policy is now subject to wrangling by lawyers in Europe and London is a symptom of the Government's failure to tackle the issue head-on. Eager as ministers are to neither anger businesses nor voters, it cannot be ducked forever. A long-term strategy for addressing the challenges presented by an ageing population – spiralling state pension costs not least among them – will be vital for our future.

The Government's current plan is to raise the retirement age from 65 to 66 by 2030, to 67 by 2040 and to 68 by 2050. But this seems to be too little and too late – nearly 70 per cent of forced retirees feel they were not ready to retire, and this number will only grow in the next two decades unless a more immediate change is made. It should be. There is no good reason to shed so many experienced members of the workforce. The Government should encourage them by promoting flexible working hours and providing retraining grants; and most importantly, by continuing to fight the age discrimination which is still rife in British businesses.