Legislation that was supposed to outlaw ageism in the workplace, by making it impossible to force people to retire because of their age, has actually made life harder for people over the age of 50.
This group already suffers from massive discrimination, and a more serious long-term unemployment headache than any other age group. And according to some people, the new laws have made things even worse.
Out of workThe findings come from The Age and Employment Network, which found that 37% of older people who are out of work have been in this position for a long time, and are struggling to get back into the workplace. This is a higher percentage than for any other age group.
It isn't for want of trying. The survey found that overwhelmingly this group wanted to work - driven by financial need, a desire to feel valued and the social interaction work brings. It also found that they were 'worried' or 'desperate' about not working.
AgeismChris Ball, Chief Executive of TAEN, said that a major part of the reason so many of them struggled to find work was that ageism remains rife in the UK. The research found that 83% of job seekers over the age of 50 felt that recruiters thought they were too old. Some 72% said recruiters thought they were 'over-qualified' or 'too experienced'.
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LegislationSuccessive governments have been trying to make this sort of discrimination illegal. It is now illegal to discriminate on the grounds of age when you are recruiting, and in the workplace. It is also illegal to force anyone to retire because of their age.
When this change was introduced, the lobby for older people were celebrating. Saga said at the time that "By keeping more over 65s economically active, we will be improving the medium term job prospects for the economy... A social revolution seems underway, and the more people embrace these opportunities, the better for all of us."
FailureSadly this celebration seems vastly premature. Ball pointed out: "These obstacles continue more than six years after discrimination against older jobseekers was outlawed by the 2006 Age Regulations and two years after the Default Retirement Age, allowing people to be forcibly retired at 65, was ended."
The research showed that the legislation had failed to make a dent on discrimination. Only one in ten job hunters over the age of 50 felt it had made a positive difference, with 47% believing it hadn't been beneficial at all.
In fact, there is a school of thought that making it impossible to force someone to retire on the grounds of age makes employers nervous about employing older people. The idea is that they are concerned they may be stuck with them as they head into their 60s and 70s, and cannot afford to retire.
One respondent to the survey summed it up, saying: "Given that compulsory retirement is now not available I suspect that many employers are reluctant to recruit older staff who, they fear, may present motivational and even attendance issues in future."
Another commented that removal of the default retirement age "has been counterproductive as it has made employers reluctant to take on older workers they may never get rid of."
Ball said that the findings indicated that the government urgently needs to deal with the failings in legislation. He said: "There is an urgent need to review the extent of both direct and indirect age discrimination in the recruitment process. It seems clear that the law is being flouted with impunity and there is a presumption that, 'of course employers will discriminate by age if they wish to so.'"