Equality Bill To Ban Ageism

Posted on: 14 July 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

New legislation promises to outlaw age discrimination once and for all.

Harriet Harman, Minister for Women and Equality, has announced new measures which will be in the Equality Bill, including a comprehensive ban on age discrimination.

Age discrimination is already banned in the workplace, yet inequality still exists. Two thirds of over-fifties feel that they are turned down for a job because they are too old.

'Framework for a Fairer Future' - the Equality Bill will include powers to ban all unjustified discrimination against older people, such as denying them medical treatment. Things that help older people, such as free bus passes, will still be allowed. Public bodies will also have a new legal duty to eliminate age discrimination and promote equality.

The Equality Bill will will replace nine major pieces of legislation and around 100 other measures, spanning forty years, from the 1970 Equal Pay Act through to the 2005 Disability Discrimination Act.

The Government's plans to make age discrimination illegal are a "massive step forward" according to two leading older people's charities. Responding to the Equality Bill announced on 26th June 2008, Age Concern and Help the Aged are calling on Ministers to ensure equality for older people happens as soon as possible.

"For a long time the Government would not accept that age discrimination was a problem," says Michael Lake, Director General of Help the Aged. "Now it has, and so the timetable for action is absolutely crucial."

"Older people have been waiting for far too long to be treated as equals - and they shouldn't have to wait for these rights any longer. Legislation must be enacted without delay so older people can be on a truly equal footing as soon as possible."

The Government's decision sends a clear signal that ageism should be taken as seriously as any other form of discrimination, according to Age Concern's Director General, Gordon Lishman.

"This legislation will transform the lives of millions of older people by giving them the same opportunities to participate in society as everyone else."

"The Help the Aged 'Just Equal Treatment' campaign called on the Government to make age discrimination illegal and extend the public sector equality duty - which currently requires local authorities to promote equality between people of different race, gender and disability status - to include age so older people's needs are taken into account in public services."

Public authorities already have a duty to consider how their spending decisions, employment practices and service delivery affect people whatever their race, disability or gender.

The Bill will replace this with a new streamlined and strengthened equality duty which will also include age and sexual orientation. This means that public bodies will need to consider how services affect a wide range of different people.

For example a library may provide IT training specifically for older people, or a police authority may provide an emergency mobile phone text service for deaf people.

Introducing a public sector duty in respect of age and outlawing age discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services are further important steps towards defeating age discrimination, according to TAEN - The Age and Employment Network. In addition, age changes in the Equality Bill should lead to more jobs.

"It is only just and fair that people should not be arbitrarily denied access to goods, facilities and services simply on the basis of their age," says Chris Ball, Chief Executive of TAEN. "It is right that the same protections already being given under other equality strands will at last be extended to age."

"The good news is that these changes - along with the intention to introduce a public duty in respect of age - should also have important economic benefits as well. Stimulating more demand for goods and services should translate into more jobs in sectors such as travel, tourism, health and social care."

"What is more, a growing public duty should ensure that a good proportion of those jobs should go to older jobseekers as public sector employers themselves, and their suppliers, actively embrace age diverse employment policies and practices."

However TAEN believes the Bill misses an opportunity to end set retirement ages.

"It appears that there is one glaring omission in the Bill's 'age' proposals. That is the failure to scrap the default retirement age. This item, more than any other, would have sent the strongest signal that individuals should be judged on their own merits, abilities and contribution - not the date on their birth certificate. Its inclusion would make the Bill much stronger and more effective in defeating age discrimination."

"We will, therefore, be pushing for an amendment to be added to the Bill as it makes its way through Parliament."

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions James Purnell claims this Bill takes Britain closer to being a country where all people have the opportunity to participate fully in society, and are seen first for what they can contribute, not their age or their disability, for example.

"More and more of us are living longer, and increasingly we have big ambitions for later life. All sections of society need to adapt to these new realities and the public and private sectors will need to take people's needs into account."

What's Your View?

Does the Equality Bill go far enough? Can new laws end ageism? Have you experienced age discrimination? Or doesn't it bother you? You can share your views in the 50connect forum.

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