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Age discrimination a ‘widespread problem’, says government’s older workers champion

Age discrimination and unconscious bias are “widespread problems” in the UK, according to a report from the government’s business champion for older workers Ros Altmann.

Altmann’s report, A New Vision for Older Workers: Retain, Retrain, Recruit, looks at the benefits of organisations employing more older workers.

In the report, Altmann recommends introducing funding for mature apprenticeships and urges employers to adopt age-friendly policies such as flexible working and phased retirement.

She said employers must focus on the three Rs: retain (keeping older workers and their skills in the workplace), retrain (offering ongoing workplace training to older workers) and recruit (stamp out age discrimination from the recruitment process).

On the policy side, she advises the government to appoint a national champion for older workers, introduce a nationwide strategy to improve adult skills, tackle age discrimination by imposing new penalties, and improve jobcentre programmes for the over-50s.

Altmann is also calling for a “media rebrand” of old age. She said: "Wizened hands and walking sticks are not appropriate depictions of older people, and merely reinforce negative discriminatory stereotypes".

The report presents data that proves having more older workers in the labour market does not take opportunities away from young people. Altmann said evidence shows having more older people working is associated with lower unemployment and higher wages for young people.

“It is in the interests of all of us to enable more older people to stay in work,” she said. “Older and younger workers are not readily substituted for each other.”

Role of recruitment

Altmann said the recruitment industry has a “really important role to play” in increasing later life employment.

She added: “With an ageing population, many of whom would like to work longer, businesses and recruiters have a wide pool of skills and experience available. Too often the talents of older applicants can be overlooked.”

In response to Altmann’s report, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) has announced plans for an ‘Older Workers Pledge’, to be developed in partnership with charity Age UK. The aim of the pledge is to help more businesses realise the benefits of employing older workers.

REC chief executive Kevin Green said older workers face “unique challenges” in the job market, which recruiters can help them address.

He added: “The ultimate decision as to who is employed does not lie with recruiters, however, they have a duty to ensure they are compiling diverse long and short lists, and challenging unconscious bias wherever it arises.”