The talents of more than a million people aged over 50 who want to work are being wasted because of discrimination, bias and outdated employment practices, says the Women and Equalities Committee in a major new report published today.

The report also concludesthat Government and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) are failing to enforce the law on age discrimination and must be clearer that prejudice, unconscious bias and casual ageism in the workplace are all unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.

Although the Committee concludes that the Government’s employer-led approach has its advantages, it does not present a strong enough challenge to discriminatory practices or attitudes.

MPs call for the Government to work with the EHRC to agree specific enforcement actions across both the public and private sectors. Specifically, recruitment agencies should accept greater responsibility for collecting data on where older workers are being excluded and developing a plan of action to remove discrimination from the recruitment process.  

Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Maria Miller MP, said:

“Age discrimination in the workplace is a serious problem, as many older people have discovered. Yet despite it being unlawful for more than a decade, the scale and lack of enforcement uncovered by our inquiry is both alarming and totally unacceptable.

“The Government and the EHRC have failed to get to grips with this. They must be more robust in providing a remedy to potentially unlawful working practices in the recruitment sector. Strategies such as Fuller Working Lives and the Industrial Strategy are not coordinated and lack any plan to ensure that existing legislation is being implemented and enforced.   

“As a country we face serious challenges recruiting and retaining an experienced and skilled workforce. Until we tackle discrimination against the growing number of over 50s, they will continue to be consigned to the ‘too old’ pile instead of being part of the solution.

 “The business case for an age-diverse workforce is clear. Despite this, employers continue to organise workplaces around an outdated, inflexible model that this inquiry and our past inquiries into fathers in the workplace and the gender pay gap show no longer works. It’s time for a mandatory approach, with flexible working being the default from the time jobs are advertised onwards.”

The Committee’s report finds:

  • The Government has not paid sufficient attention to the need for a national assessment of the skills the country will need in the future, and the need to challenge any characterisation of those skills as the preserve of younger people.
  • The business case for an age-diverse workforce is clear but despite this, employers continue to organise workplaces around an outdated, inflexible model that no longer works. Women are most affected and more needs to be done to make connections between government strategies, local employer support, and between the business case and business practice.
  • There are practical changes that all employers should be making. Flexible working should be the default from the time jobs are advertised onwards as many older workers often take on a range of caring responsibilities.
  • The Government should work with the Business Champion for Older Workers to develop an employer-led mentoring service for businesses who want to adapt but struggle to do so.
  • The public sector should take the lead in adapting to the new realities of an ageing workforce. Government departments should ensure flexible working by default and mid-life career reviews become standard. The EHRC must undertake urgent investigations into ways of working which are resulting in a lack of retention of older workers, and ensure that this is not the result of discriminatory practices.

 

Richard Woodman, a Partner and Head of Employment Law at Royds Withy King said:

“We agree with the Committee’s report that age discrimination is a serious problem in the workplace but would argue against further legislation or enforcement actions. The legislation that exists is robust and is very clear: employers cannot discriminate on the grounds of age, race , sex (including pregnancy and maternity), disability, religion or belief, gender reassignment or sexual orientation.

“Employees and workers have these rights enshrined in legislation which can be enforced in the tribunals; however, we acknowledge that this is “cure and not prevention” and it is incumbent upon employers to embrace diversity in the workplace to ensure employees and workers do not need to resort to the courts to enforce these rights.

“We find the suggestion that recruitment agencies take responsibility to collect and report on discriminatory practices as unusual to say the least. Recruitment agencies, like all employers, need to operate within the current laws, and we do not believe they are best placed or indeed the right businesses to police workplace discrimination.

“If the Committee wished to see meaningful change it would be better to perhaps call on the Government to introduce a mandatory reporting requirement for businesses over a certain size, as it has done with gender pay gap reporting.”