Ageism laws ‘go unnoticed’

Millions of working Britons are unaware of new laws which come into force next week to tackle ageism, new research has found.

Today’s report by the Employers Forum on Age (EFA), which surveyed 1,000 workers over the age of 16, claims discrimination against older and younger employees remains “rife” in the workplace.

It found that 61 per cent of respondents had witnessed ageist behaviour at work, and half did not know about legislation which would make this illegal.

The survey also shows that young and old people could lose out on pay rises and promotions as a result of their age – 31 per cent said they had seen older people paid more for doing exactly the same job as a younger employee.

Almost a quarter – 23 per cent – recalled an older worker being promoted even if the younger candidate had more experience.

EFA director Sam Mercer commented: “As our research has confirmed, ageism is endemic in our society and rife in our workplaces.

“These attitudes need to be challenged and outlawed so that they become as unacceptable as sexism or racism.”

Although Mr Mercer said the new laws, which will come into force on Sunday, “will help provide protection for people who feel that they have been discriminated against on grounds of their age”, he added the change in legislation was “just the beginning of a long journey towards tackling social prejudices”.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions told the government was committed to ensuring equality at work.

He noted that in the past year 208,000 more people aged over 50 are working, claiming “the evidence suggests there are many businesses which are keen to harness the skills and experience older workers can bring”.

He added: “We know the practice of ageism is bad for business and the new legislation will ensure that older workers are protected and ageism is stamped out.”

The government’s Age Positive campaign, which sees businesses supplied with an age toolkit, involves “working with a wide range of UK businesses to help them recognise the benefits of older workers – such as reduced recruitment costs, higher retention rates, greater flexibility, higher productivity, and a broader range of skills and experience”, he said.

The government will consider whether to keep the compulsory retirement age, currently at 65 for men, or to abolish it at a formal review in 2011.

The EFA report comes in the wake of a separate survey for the charity Help the Aged, which finds only 42 per cent of the 1,000 people questioned were aware of the new laws on age discrimination.

It also showed that older people still feared ageism at work, and called on the government to ensure older employees knew their rights.