More than a million older workers locked out of work due to age discrimination, MPs’ report says

Committee slammed government and EHRC for failing to enforce laws around discrimination

Caitlin Morrison
Tuesday 17 July 2018 00:13 BST
The Women and Equalities Committee said recruitment agencies should take action on discrimination
The Women and Equalities Committee said recruitment agencies should take action on discrimination (Reuters)

The government has been accused of failing to enforce age discrimination laws, with the result that more than a million people aged over 50 are being locked out of the workplace, according to MPs on the Women and Equalities Committee.

In a report on older people and employment, MPs take aim at the government and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and say they “must be clearer that prejudice, unconscious bias and casual ageism in the workplace are all unlawful under the Equality Act 2010”.

The committee said the talents of more than a million people aged over 50 who want to work “are being wasted because of discrimination, bias and outdated employment practices”, and has called on government to work with the EHRC to come up with specific plans to address this.

Last year, the government’s business champion for older workers, Andy Briggs, who is CEO of Aviva Life UK, said UK employers should aim to increase the number of staff in the 50-70 year old age bracket by 12 per cent by 2022. However, MPs say the government’s proposals are not being followed through.

Maria Miller, MP, who chairs the Women and Equalities Committee, said: “Age discrimination in the workplace is a serious problem, as many older people have discovered. Yet despite it being unlawful for more than a decade, the scale and lack of enforcement uncovered by our inquiry is both alarming and totally unacceptable.

“As a country we face serious challenges recruiting and retaining an experienced and skilled workforce. Until we tackle discrimination against the growing number of over 50s, they will continue to be consigned to the ‘too old’ pile instead of being part of the solution.”

Ms Miller said the government and EHRC have “failed to get to grips” with the problem of older people feeling shut out of the job market, and said previous attempts to deal with the issue, such as the Fuller Working Lives programme and the Industrial Strategy were not co-ordinated and failed to ensure existing legislation was being enforced.

She added: “The business case for an age-diverse workforce is clear. Despite this, employers continue to organise workplaces around an outdated, inflexible model that this inquiry and our past inquiries into fathers in the workplace and the gender pay gap show no longer works. It's time for a mandatory approach, with flexible working being the default from the time jobs are advertised onwards.”

One of the suggestions made by MPs was to give recruitment agencies greater responsibility for collecting data on where older workers are being excluded and developing a plan of action to remove discrimination from the recruitment process.

Richard Woodman, head of employment law at Royds Withy King, said the proposal was “unusual to say the least”.

“Recruitment agencies, like all employers, need to operate within the current laws, and we do not believe they are best placed or indeed the right businesses to police workplace discrimination,” said Mr Woodman.

“If the committee wished to see meaningful change it would be better to perhaps call on the government to introduce a mandatory reporting requirement for businesses over a certain size, as it has done with gender pay gap reporting.”

The Centre for Ageing Better joined the committee’s call and said UK employers need to ensure they have more age-friendly employment policies and practices.

Patrick Thomson, a spokesperson for the group, said: “The UK workforce is changing – and employers need to catch up. Improving policy and practice, tackling age bias and creating an age-friendly workplace culture is vital to ensuring that people can work for as long as they want to. Employers who don’t make these changes will be left behind.

“This matters for older workers, and younger workers, who mostly expect to work longer than their parents. Without changes to our workplaces, more and more of us will face worse working lives as we age.”

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