Latest big idea will sustain inequality

Retire at 70 and receive £30,000! The government’s latest ploy
to make us work until we drop is a stunning example of inequality
in action and policy making so unjoined up, the various departments
might as well be sited on five continents.

Although average life expectancy is 77, the poor die younger. So, a
high proportion who slog on will not be around as long as the
better off to enjoy the lump sum and the proposed enhanced pension.
Those groups identified as having a significantly shorter life span
as a result of the impact of issues related to poverty – low
income, bad housing – should receive proportionately more than the

Assuming that people want to continue to work (and that means
making employment a far more humane, flexible world), the second
problem is that, in order to retire, first you need a job. One in
three aged 50 and over are out of work, many unwillingly. The lower
participation rates of this 50-plus group between 1979 and 2000
cost the economy £16bn in lost gross domestic product.
Government research in 2001 found age discrimination at work
“common place” with six out of 10 employers preferring not to
recruit over-35s.

Meanwhile, in a powerfully argued report, Age Equality Comes of
Age: Delivering Change for Older People
, published last week
by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), co-authors
Sarah Spencer and Sandra Fredman say it is wrong that older people
have to “complain their way to equality”.

Later this month, the government will announce proposals for a new
single equality and human rights commission to come into force in
2006. Legislation against discrimination in the workplace on
grounds of sex, race and disability will expand to include sexual
orientation, religion and age. Spencer and Fredman rightly argue
that this will spectacularly fail to achieve the profound cultural
change required to curtail ageism unless there is also a duty on
the public sector to promote equality of opportunity and autonomy
for older people – emulating the existing race equality duty.

They would also like the law governing discrimination in the
workplace to extend to goods and services. An ICM poll for IPPR
says one in three believe older people experience discrimination in
receiving social services. The aim, they say, is education and

Ageism wastes human resources and poisons the system – and that
shouldn’t just be the concern of those heading for their pensions.

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