Last week, on 1 October, was Older People’s Day in the UK and the UN International Day of Older Persons. However, age discrimination continues to be a problem in our country so in this post we’re going to look at the discrimination issues still facing older people, particularly the long-term unemployed.

We shouldn’t need to be signing petitions on this issue but we do. In fact age discrimination may be the last bastion of widespread and endemic prejudice – despite it being unlawful.

It must be admitted the law against age discrimination has been a stop-start affair since the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations were introduced in 2006 in a way that allowed employers to routinely sack people at the age of 65 – the “default retirement age” as it was called. Sadly, even though forced retirement has been now made unlawful too, it remains the case that ambivalent attitudes to age reign supreme.

Many companies have policies which state clearly that they do not discriminate on grounds of age but it is not always clear that they put this into practice at the grass roots.

There is no doubt that older job seekers are finding it harder to get work. All the publicity over the increasing numbers of people who are working longer – in the main because they stay in the same job rather than changing jobs – ignores the fact that those out of work are having the toughest deal of all.

All the signs seem to indicate that employers systematically discriminate against older applicants when they recruit for new posts. They don’t mention ages on advertisements any more but I am told on good authority that they have a clear idea of the age of the person they want. For instance, firms which use recruitment agencies typically make clear what their “ideal age range” is for a particular job. No one is ever told that they were not recruited because of their age, but it seems beyond doubt that this is what goes on.

Far from organisations being “age blind”, candidates’ ages seem to be among the first things many employers think of or want to know about in a potential recruit.

In a recent survey of 50+ job seekers by TAEN, 83 per cent felt that they had been “seen as too old by recruiters” and 72 per cent said that they were “seen as too experienced or over qualified”. Far from age discrimination being banned in job recruitment, it has simply been driven under-ground.

George Osborne’s new Help to Work programme will add to the existing pressure on the long term unemployed with the impact falling disproportionately on older job seekers. This is because people over 50 have the biggest problems of any age group with long term unemployment.

What will older job seekers make of a system that allows routine age discrimination on one hand and obliges them to work for their benefits on the other?

The older job seeker, who may feel he or she has many years of active work life ahead of them if only they were to be offered a job, is consigned to the scrap heap.

What could be more depressing than being pointlessly cast aside in one’s mid-fifties?

TAEN – The Age and Employment Network – believes the law should be strengthened. At the moment employers can pick and choose according to age without realistic fear of being caught.

We want to eradicate this mindless ageism from the labour market. We know it will be very difficult but we are determined to try.

As a starting point we are calling on the government, employers and the recruitment industry to investigate the problem. Clearly, unions, bodies such as Acas and older people’s organisations could all contribute to such an investigation.

Teasing out the mix of sharp practices and the unconscious biases that explain ingrained ageist attitudes would be no more than a stepping stone to eradicating ageism. But it would be a vital one if we are to end the practices that give older job seekers such a hard time.

To support TAEN’s campaign to ban age discrimination against older job seekers, please sign our petition.


Chris Ball is Chief Executive of TAEN – The Age and Employment network. You can follow TAEN on twitter at @taen_uk. To join TAEN visit link www.taen.org.uk/about/membership

Posted on October 9th, 2013 by Chris Ball filed under: Blog