How can we ban age discrimination effectively?

Do we really need to issue a demand such as “end age discrimination in employment now!” It might be thought unnecessary but most certainly, we do! In fact age discrimination may be the last bastion of widespread and endemic prejudice – despite it being unlawful.


In 2006 most age discrimination in the workplace was supposedly outlawed, but don’t let that fool you. Like Sid James, Kenneth Williams and Professor Stanley Unwin in the 1960s movie of the same name, age discrimination just seems able to Carry on Regardless.


In fact the law against age discrimination has been a stop-start affair with both parties being hesitant about taking the total plunge. Labour introduced the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations in 2006 – implementing the EU umbrella anti-discrimination initiative, the 2000 Employment Directive. Following this however, it remained lawful to enforce retirement of people above 65 (a pretty ageist thing) and it was not until 2011 that mandatory retirement was made unlawful with the scrapping of the so called “default retirement age.”


While this has been hailed as good news for people who want to stay working beyond the former “retirement age”, unfortunately it has not improved the situation people in their fifties or sixties who are trying to get jobs.


It comes as a rude surprise to many people to learn that the real issue for many older workers is not how they are going to work into their seventies?  but how are they going to carry on working up to 65? 30 per cent of people between 50 and 64 are economically inactive, dropping out of the workforce in many cases quite unexpectedly and finding it well nigh impossible to return.


There is no doubt that older jobseekers are finding it harder to get work, in part because employers systematically discriminate against older applicants when they recruit for new posts.


The older job seeker in Britain today is in many ways the most disadvantaged individual in the labour market. Employers don’t mention ages on advertisements any more of course but overwhelmingly they have a clear idea of the age of the person they want.


Firms which use recruitment agencies, typically make clear their “ideal age range” for a particular job. This isn’t spelled out formally but the agency is likely to include at least some people in that age range in their short list – otherwise where will the next contract be placed? The selecting organisation does the rest. No one is told that they were not chosen because of their age, but this is what goes on.


Far from organisations being “age blind”, candidates’ ages are among the first things many employers think of or want to know about in a potential recruit. All this happens covertly so that age is seldom given as the reason for failing to get a job. Older job seekers pick up the signs however.


In a recent survey of 50+ job seekers by TAEN, 83 per cent felt that they had been “seen as too old by recruiters.” 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.


It is no coincidence that people over 50 have the biggest problems of any age group with long term unemployment. Older job seekers make more applications and remain out of work longer than other age groups.


The older job seeker, who may feel he or she has many years of active work life ahead if only a job were to be offered, 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. Consider the following points.


  • It remains lawful to ask a person’s age in a job application – why should this be relevant?
  • It remains lawful to ask applicants to list all their previous jobs in date order – why should anyone want to know them when only the most recent are likely to be important?
  • It remains lawful to ask for qualifications and education with exact dates attached to each – but why is all this detail needed when it only serves to focus attention on the age of the applicant
  • If someone tells an untruth about their age in a job application and this is found out subsequently, it is an instantly dismissible offence. Is this really fair? If age is so often an unlawful bar to serious consideration for a job, one could argue that dissembling is a justified response of self-protection.


We in TAEN want to eradicate this mindless ageism from the labour market. We know it will be very difficult but we are determined to try. We realise that forming alliances is essential and we invite all trade unionists and right thinking people to join us.


Too many people in their fifties and sixties or even earlier are being cast aside and condemned to not working again. That’s why on October 1st – Older People’s day – we will be launching a petition. However old you are, we hope you will agree that we should not let ageism go unchallenged!


To support TAEN’s campaign to ban age discrimination against older job seekers, look out for TAEN’s petition.

Chris Ball is Chief Executive of TAEN – The Age and Employment network ( link )

Follow Chris Ball on twitter @crystal_balls

Follow TAEN on @taen_uk

To join TAEN  visit (link


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