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Last Updated: Friday, 12 November, 2004, 15:32 GMT
Peers attack 'tragedy' of ageism
2001 Age Concern poster
Age Concern has tried to raise awareness of ageism
Peers have accused the government of failing to deal with the consequences of an ageing population.

Labour peer Lord Peston branded the government's pensions policy "idiotic" and called for an end to means-testing.

The peer, who chairs the Lords economic affairs committee, added the government could end workplace ageism "at the stroke of a pen" if it wanted to.

Crossbencher Baroness Greengross said ageism was the "tragedy of our time" and was "disastrous" for the economy.


The former director general of Age Concern, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Corporate Social Responsibility, said the effects of ageing should be regarded "on a par with other global problems".

We live in an ageist society
Lord Peston

Opening the debate on the economic effects of an ageing population, Lord Peston said a new approach on pensions, retirement and higher education funding was urgently needed.

"We live in an ageist society and it is a society that has not adjusted to the increased life expectancy that we have."

Many private companies have an arbitrary age limit when considering job applicants, he told peers.

Public sector employers were flexible over short term contracts but "very inflexible" on mandatory retirement age. he added.

"There are problems but they are solvable. The only crisis will arise if we decide not to solve them."

'Two nations'

On pensions, he said the current system was complex with "the most idiotic" means-testing.

He acknowledged the Treasury's desire to target cash at the poorest pensioners, but said the best way to do this was by by restoring the link with earnings.

Financing of higher education must also change so older people were eligible for student loans, he told peers.

For the Conservatives, former social security secretary Lord Fowler said: "My over-riding fear is that under current policies we are proceeding to two nations in retirement.

"One nation is the public sector, and senior staff in the private sector, with final salary schemes.

"The other nation don't have any prospect of final salary schemes and unless policies change won't have adequate money-purchase schemes either.

"All parties need to work to ensure that doesn't happen in this country."

The government is expected to announce a shake-up of the pensions system next year when its Pensions Commission produces its final report.

The commission is expected to recommend a a mix of higher taxes, more saving and a higher average retirement age.

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