Equalities secretary Harriet Harman today promised to ban age discrimination in the provision of goods, services and facilities.
In a statement to parliament, Harman said the forthcoming Equality Bill will include the measure alongside duties on the public sector to promote age equality.
The move is likely to have significant implications for social care services, which have long been accused of having lower aspirations for older service users than younger adults. For instance, councils’ much greater levels of spending on care packages for younger disabled people as opposed to older people may come under scrutiny.
While age discrimination is outlawed in employment, it is currently the only equality dimension – the others are belief and religion, disability, gender, race and sexual orientation – where discrimination is legal in the provision of goods and services.
The duty on the public sector will put age on a par with race, disability and gender.
Help the Aged campaign
Today’s announcement follows a longstanding campaign by Help the Aged to outlaw age discrimination.
In a joint statement with Age Concern, the charity described the pledge as a “massive step forward”, but urged the government to act “sooner rather than later”.
Help the Aged director general Michael Lake said: “For a long time the government would not accept that age discrimination was a problem. Now it has, and so the timetable for action is absolutely crucial.”
Disappointment on children’s equality
However, the Children’s Society expressed disappointment that the age discrimination provision would not extend to differential treatment for children.
Director of children and young people Penny Nicholls said: “By excluding children from the provisions the government is perpetuating the injustice and prejudice that children experience on a daily basis.”
She added that blanket bans on school children entering shops and a lower minimum wage for 16- to 18-year-olds were “all examples of discrimination that would not be tolerated if directed towards any other group in society”.
Harman also promised action to tackle unequal pay between men and women, particularly in the private sector where the gap is twice as large as in the public sector. This includes provisions for:
- Employment tribunals to make recommendations applying not just to complainants but everyone in their workplaces.
- The Equality and Human Rights Commission to conduct inquiries into sectors with the biggest pay gaps.
- Public sector contracts to be used to promote transparency on pay inequalities within private firms.
- A kite-marking system for companies to challenge them to report on gender pay.
She said the government expected all employers to report on gender pay differences and said it would review progress and consider using existing legislastion to force greater transparency from employers over the next five years.
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