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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 December, 2004, 09:35 GMT
'Why ageism must be eradicated'
By Baroness Sally Greengross
Chief Executive of International Longevity Centre UK

Ageism, or discriminating against people purely on the grounds of their chronological age, is deeply embedded and very widespread in our society.

Baroness Sally Greengross
Age discrimination is a huge waste of talent
Sally Greengross
Age discrimination is very often unconscious which makes it difficult to tackle.

People sometimes think they are being kind if they treat older people differently from those who are younger.

Their attitude will be felt as patronising and will harm the self esteem of the individual and demean society as a whole.

The main reason for eradicating this harmful behaviour is that our society is undergoing a huge demographic revolution.

In future we will need to utilise the skills, experience and energy of healthier, more active and dynamic older generations. A multi-generational workforce will ensure our economy will prosper in a highly competitive world.

Ageing 'a triumph'

The ageing of the population is an unprecedented triumph resulting from the huge advances in medical and social care, but the challenges it presents to us can also be seen as daunting.

It impacts on many areas of life from the design of our homes and workplaces, which need to be inclusive, to access to education and training opportunities, which need to be genuinely lifelong.

Some of us can learn or acquire skills and education better when we are more mature and the ever changing nature of work will require people of all ages to update their knowledge.

Currently arbitrary age barriers mean older citizens can't participate in many voluntary and civic activities, such as being a magistrate after a particular birthday.

As consumers older people may have difficulty hiring a car, getting insurance or borrowing money just because they have reached a certain age.

Health discrimination

In healthcare, the discrimination is evident when older patients in the NHS are treated differently from the young.

Examples include omitting older people from clinical trials or denying particular treatment or operations on the basis of their chronological age.

Such decisions are unjustified and arbitrary, based on prejudiced views of what a "good innings" is or that the interventions are not worth pursuing because a person is "old".

On the contrary, these older people often respond better because they are by definition "survivors" and might make a more successful recovery than a less hardy younger person.

As older people are major consumers of medicine their exclusion from clinical trials makes little medical sense.

Old are taxpayers too

As our society ages, it's important that good health continues into later life.

Health and longevity can equate to a greater national wealth because healthy older individuals can remain productive members of society for longer, consuming goods and services and contributing as workers, and therefore taxpayers, and also as volunteers who are the mainstay of civil society.

For employers, enforcing arbitrary retirement ages instead of using a real appraisal of a person's competence ignores the fact that some people are ineffective at 75 and others at 35.

Many people today are innovative and achieving new goals well into their 80s and beyond.

We are all different and the number of our birthdays is not the best indicator of how we differ.

People like Bill Gates and indeed Mick Jagger are no longer young but should not be put in a box marked 'past their sell by date'
Age discrimination is a huge waste of talent. There is legislation due to come into effect in October 2006 banning age discrimination in employment and training.

The impending establishment of a Commission for Equality and Human Rights will have a role to promote age equality and will look to develop inclusive patterns of employment for all areas of diversity.

Entrenched attitudes take a long time to change.

In employment it may be difficult for a young manager to tell an older colleague, that they must change their way of working because their work no longer represents current best practice.

Performance management throughout a person's career is therefore essential so we can benefit from a person's experience regardless of age, and work towards the age diverse workforce we need, where youth and experience combine to give us the strengths the global economy requires.

Pushing the frontiers

Today's older people have lived through more change than any preceding generations.

They are the ones who developed today's computer technology and space travel, broke the genetic code and pushed the frontiers of science forward.

People like Bill Gates and indeed Mick Jagger are no longer young but should not be put in a box marked "past their sell by date".

Apart from anything else those now aged 50+ won't tolerate being thrown on the scrap heap. They have a huge amount of offer to society.

That's why politicians will have to listen to what they want.

Not only are their numbers increasing but they are the people most likely to vote in elections.

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