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Old-fashioned attitudes and employment policies concerning older workers must change, says Harriet Harman

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Public policy and employment patterns must change significantly to accommodate older people in the workforce, according to Harriet Harman, minister of state for women and equality.

Speaking yesterday at the Employers Forum on Age (EFA) annual conference, Harman said: "Society as a whole needs to acknowledge that the over-60s also have aspirations, and employers have to draw out the skills and talents of the individual to ensure good future prospects. 

"Above all, the UK needs to make more progress in challenging the status quo and deal with the old-fashioned attitudes that still exist around this age group."

The announcement came as the Government is to review the default retirement age later this year and less than a month after Harman announced a shake-up that could see an end to the controversial mandatory retirement age for workers.

Research of HR staff by the EFA revealed found 76% of organisations that have removed a mandatory retirement age considered it kept valued people in the organisation, 85% said it maintained valuable skills, 52% believed it improved morale among employees and 44% said that it had improved their company's customer-facing image.

Denise Keating, chief executive of EFA, said: "We have been campaigning for the removal of the default retirement age for a long time, and are obviously delighted that the Department for Work and Pensions announced that the Government is bringing forward the review into this year, neatly demonstrating the need to address one of the most pressing problems for this generation - how to fund our longer lives.

"Ultimately, a fixed retirement age is fundamentally discriminatory, as age is not an indication of capability. Recent research by McDonald's proved that mixed age teams, which include at least one person over 60, deliver improved business performance. Every employer should look to those companies - B&Q, Nationwide, JD Wetherspoon, BT and Marks & Spencer to name but a few - that have successfully removed mandatory retirement ages, and follow suit. A change to the rules is inevitable, and needs to happen as soon as possible."