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Friday, 8 November, 2002, 00:10 GMT
Few Britons aware of 'ageist' law
A woman working in a factory
Workers are unaware that redundancy may await them
Nine out of ten Britons are unaware that under UK law they can be made redundant merely on the grounds of their age, new research reveals.

The charity Age Concern, which commissioned the research, said many employers regard older workers as lacking dynamism and unable to be retrained.

Shut out
Nearly a third of over 50s are currently not in a full-time job
Source: Office for National Statistics

However, only 3% of the general public believe that age should be the most important factor when selecting a candidate for redundancy.

Ageist hiring and firing policies are estimated by Age Concern to cost the UK economy a massive £31bn a year.

For the last few years I have been stacking shelves in a supermarket part-time. Younger workers are unaware what awaits them,

Howard Wright, IT trainer made redundant at 50

Mended ways

Of 1,000 adults surveyed 62% agreed that laws to combat age discrimination should be introduced as a matter of urgency.

A European Union law guaranteeing older workers basic rights is to come into force in 2006.

However, Age Concern is calling on employers to mend their ways and value their older workers now.

"They have the skills, experience and wisdom to be a huge asset. Most people regard the fact that workers can be made redundant on the grounds of their age as wrong," Cheryl Elliot, Age Concern spokeswoman told BBC News Online.


According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) a third of the UK population will be over 50 by 2020.

The managers referred to the policy as scrapping the over 50's

Howard Wright
Nearly a third of over 50s are currently not in a full-time job.

Harold Wright's case seems may be typical of many.

Mr Wright was an information technology trainer for a communications company until 1989 before taking voluntary redundancy.

"I had just reached the age of 50 when I was told that it was company policy to make people of my age redundant," he told BBC News Online.

Scrap heap challenged

Mr Wright's choice was stark: "I could either take 'voluntary' redundancy with a golden handshake or be made redundant and paid only what the state allows."

"The managers referred to the policy as scrapping the over 50's," Mr Wright added.

During the last thirteen years Mr Wright, who can speak twelve languages has applied for 800 training jobs in the UK and Europe and to date has only had one interview.

"For the last few years I have been stacking shelves in a supermarket part-time. Younger workers are unaware what awaits them," Mr Wright warns.

Your Comments

With his wealth of knowledge, experience and expertise, Mr. Wright should set up his own consultancy, either alone or with others in a like situation. He is far too valuable a person to be cloistered within just one company!

I am amazed to read that British workers are not protected against age discrimination. Here in California there are laws against just this sort of discrimination

John, USA

Setting up and running your own business may seem like a daunting prospect but it certainly puts the challenge, fire and excitement back into life - and yes, I am speaking from experience! You've obviously got it Mr. Wright - so use it!!
Fran, UK

Ageism is not confined to over 50s. take IT for example which consider people over 35 as incapable. I am hearing agencies claiming their clients want under 30s now. This ageism has never been about age or lack of ability, but simply cheap labour
rob , UK

The corporate memory loss that comes from sidelining so many experienced workers may explain why so many things in Britain do not seem to work too well.
Neville Wardle, USA

I am amazed to read that British workers are not protected against age discrimination. Here in California there are laws against just this sort of discrimination.
John, USA

Employers throw your application form in the bin as soon as they see your date of birth regardless of any other criteria. Then they lie about having an equal opportunities policy and living in a meritocracy. Minus the matured skills of the older workforce they create a sea of youthful, hung over incompetence, and wonder where all the cock ups come from. If you¿re over forty no-one will employ you, your housing benefit is inadequate, your Mickey Mouse jobseeker¿s allowance is consequently reduced to thirty or so pounds a week and you are destroyed by creditors. After a few years of blank refusal despite one¿s qualifications and experience all that is left is indigence and despair. Personally I¿m going to teach, with fifteen years to go to retirement it is the only way I can obtain a solvent dignified life. And you know what you can do with your dynamic, self-actualised team players don¿t you?
Paul Newton, UK

Well what a surprise we now have the "alleged "captains" of British industry embarking on ageist witch hunts in the workplace. No surprise really as older people posses common sense and experience in life to say that foolish business practices are simply, that, foolish may be if we had maturity and wisdom at the head of corporations instead of whiz kids and greedy middle aged noses in the corporate trough we wouldn¿t have big failures such as Enron.
Bob Baker, Canada

What a waste... British managers are wasting talent. I am 30 next year and have been told I am too old to come back to the UK and work by some managers. Since we are all likely to live well into our eighties or nineties due to scientific, dietary and medical progress it seems stupid to write people off because of age. Anyway, who pays all the pensions in a decade when all the post-war baby boomers have retired? Let 'me work, I say. They have the experience, after all.
S F, Japan (English)

Even the United States has a law against discriminating because of age. The UK is so far behind on this issue, its disgusting. I suppose when its financially desirable to have this anti-ageing legislation passed, it will be. Thank you EU for forcing the UK on this matter
Michael E. Curd, UK

The real reason many employers reject the over-50s is that by this time people have learnt the verbal skills to stand up to bullying bosses and newly-qualified but inexperienced management graduates who are out of their depth.
Tim Field, UK

I can't say I blame employers. We have someone here at the age of 57 who does precious little work and constantly talks about retirement so what value is he to the company?
Helen, Wales, UK

Ageism will face all of us, sooner or later, so it is in the interests of all of us to fight it. From a female perspective I find it galling and ironic that women who would like to return to work after raising children, and therefore not in the first flush of youth, are impeded by this iniquitous form of discrimination. From that standpoint, therefore, ageism is a feminist issue!
Louise, United Kingdom

Typical of a modern Britain. A whole new forgotten generation

Paul Matthews, UK
The place where I work recently took on an assistant for me (I am a computer systems administrator) and we took on a woman in her late 40s. Stereotypically a late-40s woman isn't a typical computer support professional, but she is fantastic. We took her on because she was the best person for the job. Employers who overlook people like her are losing out and cheating both themselves and the people with so much to offer.
Stephanie, England

Legislation outlawing age discrimination is probably a good thing, but where it has been introduced in other countries its effectiveness has been questionable. Also, there is good evidence that while overt age discrimination by employers has clearly affected some older workers, much and perhaps most age discrimination is unintended or at least not recognised as being discrimination by employers. It will be difficult to persuade managers of the need to mend their ways when they don't even know they have a problem.
Philip Taylor, UK

Typical of a modern Britain. A whole new forgotten generation. Leaving the rest of us happy to blindly re-invent the wheel and make the same mistakes, simply because the people who learned otherwise are "too old" to be considered of value, instead of using the experience of the older generation to show us what has happened in the past so we can move forward. The saying, you have to know where you've come from to know where your going, was never more important. Its how wars start, we should ask the people who fought in the last one if they think another is a good idea, but we can't because they're all redundant !!!!
Paul Matthews, UK

Although I agree that ageism is a major problem, my own experience has been different. At the age of 52, my then employer encouraged and paid for my training as a company secretary. I qualified within 3 years and at 57 I was offered the best job I have ever had in my working life. In between two other blue chip names employed me. There are some enlightened employers out there.
Jill Smith, England

Any form of discrimination is stupid. It means you are making a decision on a pre-conceived idea not on fact. Good, bad and indifferent people exist at all ages in both sexes of every race creed and colour. Choose the good ones!
Warwick, Greece

The case of Mr Wright just proves that one of the myths that older people are generally under qualified and incapable of further training or radical re-thinking is a myth. Older people have far more life as well as job experience which perhaps is why, with so many firms having young dynamic managers, customer service and quality is so poor. Anti-ageism laws are needed now, not in 2006!
Jenny, UK

It's awful how future employers discriminate against age. I don't put my age on my CV, even though I'm young because people think I'm too young and inexperienced, which is far from the truth. People stereotype us, but what can we do to stop this?
May, England

The government's lack of action to address this form of prejudice is an absolute disgrace - particularly in the light of the huge penalties for any form of sex discrimination. The UK looks like a backward developing country - not the worlds 4th largest "developed" economy
Justin mark, UK

I would have thought it was economically advantageous to employ women over 50. They don't take maternity leave, do they?

Simon Richardson, UK

I took voluntary redundancy in 95 - I was a senior manager working in the Office of the President I was and am extremely well networked in Europe and the USA, I eventually started as a consultant - short term contract (2yrs) with Scottish Enterprise, then I came to work in Europe - short term basis again No Scottish company would consider looking at me - yet I am a recognised global expert in my work! All corporations are still paying off people so again at my age (52) forget it, experience, contacts and ability do not matter once you have passed 45yrs! It was totally different when I first started to work.
Robin Urry, Scotland - working in Italy

It is time that the law recognised the fact that ageism exists for people in lots of jobs unfortunately it does not seem to exist for MPs. If it did they might see things rather differently. I would have thought it vital that it was more important for people such as judges doctors and of course MPs should retire at the same time as everyone else and since they are on such a cushy number by the time they get older perhaps they would pass the ageism law.
Carole Armstrong-Holmes, United Kingdom

I am 38 years old and I have Bachelors and Masters degrees, plus 12 years experience of working in IT. Last December I was made redundant from my technical pre-sales job at an IT company in Surrey. Since then, I've been unable to find work - despite applying for countless hundreds of jobs. When I go for a job similar to what I had before, there is so much competition from younger candidates that I get brushed aside. When I apply for a job which is much more junior, the interviewers are scared of me because I am so obviously overqualified and they feel threatened. From earning a salary of £62,267 per annum (according to the Inland Revenue) last year, I am now working in a menial blue-collar job for the national minimum wage. Looking back, I still have difficulty believing what has happened to me. What a waste of talent and experience! The current economic downturn (and mass redundancies in the IT sector) only makes the situation worse.
Anonymous, UK

My theory is that managers are reluctant to be in the position of managing people older and, often, more experienced than themselves.
Malcolm McMahon,York, UK

I would have thought it was economically advantageous to employ women over 50. They don't take maternity leave, do they?
Simon Richardson, UK

Why is it that, in the main, the directors of the companies sacking the over 50s are over 50 themselves. If they are able to be flexible and retainable and able to make key business decisions...why can't their over 50 employees. Maybe this is the reason some companies are having so many problems?
Alan, UK

I am in my late 20's and haven't been in the job market that long, but I can say that those that are over 40 or 50 and 60 really have so much to offer. Their expertise is far superior to my own. We are far too geared to youth in the work place and everywhere else here in the UK and it needs to be changed. Whenever I need a service or supplier, I tend to ask to deal with the older workers as they know what they are doing and offer a much more pleasant service.
Joanne, UK

The bitter sadness is that all these people aspire only to be employees. An adult education system that targeted these people and their wealth of abilities and experience to run their own businesses would surly pay huge social dividends. The key is to become an employer in old age not to remain an employee!
Colin Blagdon, UK

The bitter sadness is that all these people aspire only to be employees. An adult education system that targeted these people and their wealth of abilities and experience to run their own businesses would surely pay huge social dividends. The key is to become an employer in old age not to remain an employee!
Colin Blagdon, UK

My previous company (BP) "ranked" all its employees during a downsizing in 1999 and guess what? - everybody over 50 was "invited" to take early retirement - including me. Ageism is rife in all major companies as a way of cost cutting - nothing to do with competence or legality. But its a bummer when you get to 50 and suddenly find yourself on the scrapheap. George Brown
George brown, UK

Ageism will wreck this country

Chris, England

I am a 45 year old hiring manager. I have hired all ages and find that 50 to 60 year old are some of my best workers. We will all need our older workers in the next 15 years. There are not enough younger people to fill the upcoming job demands here in the US.
Darrell Mason, USA

I am a head-hunter specialising in a particular area. Given my relative youth (42) I am often accused of ageism by individuals over 50. I only reflect what my clients insist on - management in their mid 30's who will have the potential to reach Board Director level by the time they are 40. Most companies view older people for these types of roles as failures, even individuals who have lost their job through company closures, global re-alignments etc. Without doubt companies are missing out on a highly talented, dedicated and grateful talent pool through their intransigence and ageist policies.
Anon, UK

Personally I don't want to work for a company that doesn't have a broad range of age within the staff... you need people with experience there or you end up fixing the mistakes of inexperienced people all the time.
Nathan Hobbs, Luton, UK

I must agree with Fran, the first contributor. Mostly it seems to come down to your attitude to life. After being made redundant from a senior IT position at age 53, I became a freelance programmer. This market dried up this summer, so I got a permanent IT position, at age 60, with a large local company. So - it can be done. We are not all like the colleague of "Helen, Wales" above.
Hamish West, UK

My advice to all women applying for employment is to keep your date of birth to yourself!
Rowena Emmett, UK

I was a manager in the IT industry and was made redundant at 47. I found it impossible to get any interviews let alone offers. After a year I applied for a job with a local engineering company for a quarter of my original salary. However, it is within 10 minutes drive of my house, so no commuting hassles. Ageism will wreck this country...
Chris, England

As I reached 52 a few days ago this report is very scary to say the least

Dave Mountney, England
As a qualified accountant I thought I was safe from ageist policies. The major recruitment agencies ignore the over 50s or offer only temporary contracts. A vast pool of experience is being lost to the country. As we become a knowledge based society this can only be a disaster. The loss of traditional pensions, which probably finance the income gap for the over 50s, will make matters even worse.
J Reilly, UK

My father has just been made redundant at the age of 49. He is having great problems getting another job because of his age. He is and has always been a grafter and is far from the scrap heap but when the application form says "Age. 49" its dismissed.
Cara, UK

Are these people mad! try going into B+Q and asking a youngster about a particular tool on sale, and then try an older person, guess who generally knows the product, and is able to advise you? The D.I.Y. stores have got it right.
Alun, Wales

Keep optimistic and be prepared to retrain, stress transferable skills and build on all the experiences we have. Sometimes it does work.
Jenny, England

How does the Government expect us all to work to the proposed 70 retirement age, when employers have other ideas?
Steve Dowd, England

Quite simply, what is the best way for us (because we're ALL going to suffer from this) to combat this obvious discrimination? I'm 30, and agree with 90% of comments above. Do something now before it's too late.
Anon, UK

I was made redundant at age 41. I kept applying for jobs over the next two years but could not even get an interview. Then I started getting interviews-how? I took ten years off of my age.
Chris, England

As I reached 52 a few days ago this report is very scary to say the least.
Dave Mountney, England

Why write us off? We have experience, knowledge and are less likely to job hop.
Richard, England

I am 29 and I work in I.T. My taxi driver today knew so much more about the industry than me that it made me feel like a complete amateur. But he got made redundant at 50 so there he was driving me to work. How ridiculous is that!
Andrew Smith, UK

I am 63, tired, and ready for retirement. I have become set in my ways, and I dislike all the changes that are constantly being introduced. I would not blame any employer for not wanting to employ somebody like me. But the fact is that everybody is different, and I don't doubt that some people of my age and older are very capable of survival in today's work place. There are many selection procedures that employers can use to determine a person's suitability, and to reject anybody on grounds of age (or any other reason) means they may well not get the best person for the job. Why do Employers handicap themselves?
Robert, UK

Its a pity the members of Parliament do not experience ageism because I am sure that they would react now to protect their own position as most Members of Parliament are aged over 50.
John, UK

Even if legislation is introduced in 2006 to prevent age discrimination, it will be too late for lots of useful, intelligent and hard-working people. Why not set up a national register of companies who have any sort of ageism employment policy and institute a boycott of their products and employment? Then name and shame.
Tony Rendall, UK

One definition of a dynamo is something that goes round in circles very fast, causing a lot of friction, and only achieves a weak output. So, to all those idiot companies constantly seeking "dynamic young staff" - enough said?
David, UK

I was made redundant last year aged 49.Despite almost 200 job applications, there is still no sign of a job. As an export sales manager, earning £40K per year, I was personally responsible for millions of pounds of exports for this country. If the government allows ageism, and is willing to pay me unemployment benefits, so be it. Problem is, I cannot afford private pension contributions anymore, so these young managers will pay heavily in taxation, bless them. And politicians tell us we will need to work until we are seventy - which planet are they on?
Mike Glanville, England

It's a disgrace that older people are treated this way. We are going backwards, not forwards. There are so many agencies out there that fight one form of discrimination or other, it's about time one was set up to combat age discrimination, and the government should get their fingers out to pass a law to stamp it out. BR> Lee, UK

Neil Churchill, Age Concern
"We can't afford to lose that lifetime of experience"
See also:

04 Jun 02 | Business
15 Jan 02 | Business
22 Nov 01 | Education
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