Government ministers and Britain’s equalities watchdog are failing to save more than a million older workers from discrimination, bias and outdated employment practices, according to a group of MPs.
In a highly critical report for the government, the women and equalities committee said the talents of older workers were going to waste because too little was being done to enforce discrimination law.
The panel of MPs accused the government and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, set up a decade ago, of “failing to enforce the law” on age discrimination.
Prejudice against older workers, unconscious bias and causal ageism were made illegal in the UK under the Equality Act 2010. However, the committee said it had found widespread failings in its enforcement, saying the scale was “alarming and totally unacceptable”.
Maria Miller, the Conservative MP who chairs the committee, said: “As a country, we face serious challenges recruiting and retaining an experienced and skilled workforce. Until we tackle discrimination against the growing number of over 50s, they will continue to be consigned to the ‘too old’ pile instead of being part of the solution.”
Over the next few decades the shape of the labour market in Britain will change dramatically as more people stay in employment for longer than before. About a third of workers will be over the age of 50 by 2020, while nearly a quarter of the UK population will be aged 65 or over within two decades.
The report says women tend to be hardest hit by the lack of flexibility offered by companies for older workers when many people over the age of 50 need to reduce their working hours to care for loved ones. It called on the government to introduce a statutory entitlement for five days’ paid leave for carers, and a longer period of unpaid leave, to help older workers balance work with caring.
While the government has focused on skills and training for younger workers through apprenticeships, the committee warned that older workers had been neglected by government education policies.