Pressure on for positive approach to age diversity

Age discrimination could be made illegal if companies fail to grasp the
nettle of encouraging age diversity in the workplace.

In a high-profile study, commissioned by prime minister Tony Blair, the
Cabinet Office warns that if there is not a change in attitudes and behaviour
the Government should introduce age discrimination legislation.

It also advocates raising the age at which pensions are payable from 50 to
55 and increasing the retirement age of civil servants to 65. It is expected
this proposal will be extended to other public sector organisations at a later

The Cabinet Office report, Winning the Generation Game, is intended to
address the problem of the increasing number of people between 50 and state
pension age who are not working.

The Government estimates that the drop in work rates among over-50s since
1979 is costing the economy £16bn in lost GDP, and taxpayers £3bn to £5bn in
extra benefits and lost taxes. Among the key problems it attacks are age
prejudice and the obsolescence of skills held by older workers.

Helen Garner at Employers’ Forum on Age said the report was an important
document and that businesses could no longer afford to overlook the issue of
age discrimination.

But she said the introduction of anti-discrimination legislation would need
to be thought about carefully and it would not automatically solve the problem.

The report has drawn criticism for its attack on the incentives for early
retirement provided by occupational pensions. One expert told Personnel Today
it was unhelpful to take this line when the Government was at the same time
trying to encourage employees to take more responsibility for pension

A number of large organisations are encouraging the retention of older
workers. At the end of last year retail giant Asda recruited a workforce of
over 50 per cent of over-50s to staff a new store in Kent.

The report’s 10 key conclusions

The Government should:

1 Outline its vision of the role and value of older people in society

2 Introduce age discrimination legislation if the code of practice on
age diversity is unsuccessful

3 Increase contact with and job search help for people on sickness
and disability benefits

4 Provide careers information and information for older displaced

5 Raise the minimum age at which an immediate pension is payable from
50 to 55

6 Improve the transparency of occupational pensions by showing the
cost of early retirement in company accounts

7 Raise the Civil Service retirement age to 65

8 Promote the advantages of diversity and flexibility through a group
of champion employers

9 Introduce a national volunteering scheme

10 Explore new ways of recognising and rewarding volunteering

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