Age discrimination blocking older job hunters

Posted on: 01 October 2013 by Gareth Hargreaves

John McCririck age discrimination tribunal gets underway as problems for older people seeking work are exposed

older people find work hard to come byThe colourful racing pundit John McCririck is a household name; he is well recognised as much for his sideburns and dress sense as he is for his knowledge of the turf. McCririck is also a man past the default retirement age, if indeed, such a thing exists; and he is challenging his former employer Channel 4 at employment tribunal on grounds of age discrimination.

The McCririck case is exceptional compared to the experiences of most older workers who have been in a similar positions. Given his high media profile and his character, it is unlikely McCririck will be consigned to the ‘knackers yard’ as he claims, but this case illustrates a worrying trend of ‘managing out’ older workers at a time when it is accepted that many will have to work beyond 65 to meet their outgoings.

Pensions Minister, Steve Webb MP failed to acknowledge the problem when he said: “There are more older people in work than ever before, despite difficult economic conditions.”

This is not a success story, it simply highlights the lack of preparedness that the UK happily idled in during the heady days before the global debt crisis. Now, with pensions and annuity values on the floor, the majority of those older people that Webb referred to, work through need rather than choice.

He continued, “Back in 2011 we took action so that older people were no longer discriminated against by abolishing the default retirement age.

I am determined that more employers will make the most of the talents and experience of older workers."

Ministerial spin is not something that is new, but Webb’s assertion that there is choice in the work place for older people isn’t supported by the statistics. Negative attitudes towards older workers remain a significant barrier in the UK and across Europe with fewer than half (48.8%) of EU28 citizens aged 55-64 in employment in 2012 - with a relatively high proportion of unemployed 55-64 year olds not having worked for 12 months or more.

A new International Longevity Centre –UK (ILC-UK) report, Working Longer: An EU perspective, explores how the EU and its 28 members have responded to the working longer agenda.

The report argues that older people have not been exempt from the impact of the recession and that Governments should put extra resource into tackling ageism and creating the right sort of jobs for an older workforce.

There is a significant skills gap due to demographic change. In the UK, there are 13.5 million job vacancies that need to be filled over the next ten years, but only seven million young people are projected to leave school and college over that time.

Older people make up a huge talent pool; they have the experience and reliability that employers crave but are too often overlooked when it comes to recruitment. Decision makers, it seems, are risk averse when it comes to employing a candidate from the upper end of the age scale.

Tony Page, managing director of 50connect, sees a conflict of expectation between employers and older job candidates: “The reality (of taking on an older worker) is very different – employers will only give jobs to older workers if they can be confident they will not cost more than any other employee in the market place.

“Many older workers expect to get paid at the rates they were at in their ‘career employment’ this is just not going to happen,” Page continued.

“Most older workers are fit and healthy but some aren’t and employers will be wary of sickness risks – both financial and operational. The idea of employing older people is good but in practice employers see too much risk.”

Governments have failed to meet EU targets set in 2001 to achieve 50% employment rate of older workers by 2010. Fewer than half (48.8%) of EU28 citizens aged 55-64 were in employment in 2012. Over the period 2002-2008, the average age of labour market withdrawal among the EU-28 had only increased by an estimated 1.3 years, from 60.1 to 61.4.

Chris Ball, Chief Executive of The Age Employment Network (TAEN) was unimpressed by Steve Webb’s view of the rich opportunities for older workers under this current government. “Despite the law officially banning age discrimination, it is a common experience for older job applicants to be rejected for jobs, not because of their abilities or qualifications to do the job but because they are seen as ‘too old’ by recruiters and employers,” he said.

“This is hugely damaging for many people in their fifties and sixties who do not get the chance to do jobs they know they can do, simply because the odds are stacked unfairly against them. If the jobs market were a playing field, most older job seekers would be playing on the side of a mountain.”

And, as John McCrick has found, the field is heavy and for the rank outsider, Older Worker, the going is tough.

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