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Older people forced back into the job market by review of welfare-to-work benefits could face age discrimination

As the Government's plans to reform welfare-to-work benefits are set to increase the number of older workers looking for a job, Age UK has warned more people in later life will be likely to find an 'invisible wall of ageism' between them and a new job, leading to more older workers stuck in long-term unemployment.

Figures from the Department of Communities and Local Government (CLG) as part of the Citizenship Survey: 2009-10 indicate hundreds of thousands of mature workers are facing ageist attitudes from recruiters. These findings come as the number of older workers looking for a job is set to rise as a result of shifting Incapacity Benefit claimants onto Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

Age UK has estimated that this measure alone could lead to over three quarter of a million more older workers returning to the job market within the next four years. The organisation claims if age discrimination in the job market is not stamped out, older jobseekers will stumble upon it in the near future.
The CLG survey shows ageism is still the biggest single factor for being discriminated against in recruitment: 4% of all workers aged 50 and over – estimated to be in excess of 300,0002 – say they have been refused a job because of their age in the past five years. This is the highest percentage among any age group after people aged 16-24, 5% of whom feel they have been discriminated against by recruiters because of their age.
Research indicates unemployed older workers have a one in five chance of getting back into employment within two years of losing their jobs. This trend is confirmed by last week’s unemployment figures showing two in five 50-plus unemployed workers have been out of work for more than a year – the highest incidence of long-term unemployment among any age group.
Figures published recently also show that since the introduction of the Age Regulations 2006 – which gave employees the power to sue their employers for age discrimination – the number of ageism-related cases received by employment tribunals soared from 2,900 in 2007/08 to 5,200 in 2009/10.
Michelle Mitchell, Age UK’s charity director, said: "The spreading perception of ageism in recruitment shows that, for older workers, the job market is still not fit for purpose.
"As more mature workers are pushed into the recruitment arena by the reassessment of welfare-to-work benefits, hundreds of thousands of them will risk coming up against the invisible wall of ageism.
"Before forcing people to rejoin the job market or work for longer, the Government must lay the foundations of a better job market for older people, with fairness and flexibility as cornerstones. The implementation of the Equality Act in October this year offers the Government an opportunity to refocus attention on the need to tackle age discrimination in the labour market once and for all."
Chris Ball, Chief Executive of TAEN – The Age and Employment Network, added: "Today’s figures show that employers still have a long way to go in making workplace cultures and practices suitable for older workers. Given that the coalition government have committed to speeding up the rise in the state pension age, working longer will become a necessity for more and more people.
"Employers of all shapes and sizes need to urgently wake up to the fact that people will need to work longer and make sure that their recruitment policies are fair. Extending working lives will not succeed without this overdue shift in culture."