Page last updated at 21:27 GMT, Wednesday, 25 June 2008 22:27 UK

Law 'will ban age discrimination'

By Sue Littlemore
Social affairs correspondent, BBC News

Bowls players
The law is expected to stop age discrimination in a range of areas

The government is to bring forward new legislation to outlaw all forms of age discrimination, the BBC has learned.

Equalities Minister Harriet Harman is expected to announce the plan on Thursday as part of a package of measures in an Equalities Bill.

The proposals, which are to be adopted across England, Wales and Scotland, will also include policies to tackle the gender pay gap.

Campaigners have long argued that prejudice based on age is widespread.

In particular, they point to cases in the NHS where older patients might be told to expect poor health at "their" age or denied treatment altogether.

Age discrimination in the workplace has been illegal since 2006, but the new legislation will tackle more widespread forms of age-related prejudice.

Goods and services

Travel, health and motor insurance is also expected to be included, where cover is simply withdrawn beyond a certain age or is prohibitively expensive.

David Clark, 76, from London, has campaigned for action against age discrimination through the charity Help the Aged.

He told the BBC that when he was 75, he was told the cost of travel insurance for a two-week holiday to America would be 175.

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However, he had to postpone the trip and had turned 76 when he wanted to resume planning for the journey.

"This time, the same insurance was going to cost me 831," he said.

"None of my circumstances had changed, including my health. The only difference and reason for the increase was that I was now over 75."

Ms Harman's announcement is expected to set out the government's intention to outlaw age discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services.

Equal pay

It is likely organisations and companies will be given time to review and, if necessary, change their practices before the new law would be enforced.

Other age distinctions, such as free bus passes and holidays for the over-50s or 18-to-30s, will be exempt.

The Association of British Insurers denies its members are unfair in their policies.

It argues that they do not discriminate against older people, but simply take account of risk.

However, groups such as Help the Aged challenge that.

Female call centre staff
Ministers are set to make a renewed effort to end the gender pay gap

They say so-called risk assessments are often not founded on sound evidence, but instead involve arbitrary cut-off points and flawed assumptions.

The new Equalities Bill will also include measures to achieve what has been an elusive goal - equal pay for men and women.

Official statistics show the gender pay gap has been declining since 1997.

However, more than 30 years since the Equal Pay Act came into effect, a significant gap still exists.

It affects different types of workers in different ways and also varies for women at different times in their working lives.

The latest official figures show that, in general, for every pound earned by a man per hour in the UK, a woman earns 87 pence.

It is understood the government intends to tackle the issue by exposing pay gaps within public services, as well as launching investigations by the independent Equalities and Human Rights Commission into sectors with a poor record on equal pay, such as City finance services.

Eradicating discrimination

There is also a plan to outlaw secrecy clauses in employment contracts designed to prevent staff from discussing their salaries.

Figures from the Equal Opportunities Commission in 2004 suggested a quarter of companies used such clauses.

HAVE YOUR SAY
It's a very artificial way to fix the problem
Johnny, East London

Under plans to make workplaces more diverse, Ms Harman wants to allow employers to appoint people specifically because of their race or gender.

The proposals would only apply when choosing between candidates equally qualified for the job.

But it means, for example, women or people from minorities could be hired ahead of others in order to create a more balanced workforce.

Some employers argue they already do this, while others may say these policies will need careful handling to reduce the risk of causing resentment amongst existing staff.

The government has faced criticism from some quarters for presiding over a society which has arguably become more unequal.

The Equalities Bill will be presented as a sign that Labour is seizing the initiative in the crafting of a fairer society, where no-one is held back by prejudice.

But new laws and regulations often meet resistance from employers, organisations and individuals, who resent what they see as the state meddling in their business.

The moral case for eradicating discrimination in all its forms is easy. The new Equalities Bill will have to do something much harder.

To be successful, the bill must not just promote policies based on knowing what is right, but policies which will inspire action that works as well.



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