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Abolish default retirement age, says EHRC

25 January 2010

The Equality and Human Rights Commission today launches a set of proposals for fundamental changes to employment policies to open up more work opportunities for older Britons and address the challenges of an ageing workforce.

Proposals include abolishing the default retirement age, extending the right to request flexible working to all, overhauling employer recruitment practices to prevent discrimination, and improved training and development. It comes as the Lords today have the opportunity to remove the default retirement age through the Equality Bill.

Claiming that the economy would be the big winner from its policies, the Commission points to research from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research showing that extending working lives by 18 months would inject £15 billion into the British economy.

A new survey carried out for the Commission into older workers’ aspirations, barriers they face and potential solutions, shows that a majority in the 50-75 age group believes major changes are needed to attitudes and policies if they are to reach their goals.

Twenty four per cent of men and 64% of women say they plan to keep working beyond the state pension age (currently 60 for women but set to rise to 65 by 2020), most often out of financial necessity. However, structural barriers and outdated stereotypes are forcing people out of work early. While Commission research shows employers are offering lower level, part-time work to over 50 year olds, twice as many older workers want a job promotion compared to those that want to downshift.

Flexibility in hours and locations is crucial to keeping older workers in the workforce longer. Eighty-five per cent of people not working and over the state pension age say greater availability of part-time or flexible jobs would help them gain a job.

The Commission will be working closely with employers to develop guidance for organisations to implement non-discriminatory recruitment practices.

Baroness Margaret Prosser, Deputy Chair of the Commission, said: “This is about developing a way of working that is based on the demographics of today’s populations and moving away from systems established when people died not long after reaching state pension age and women were supported by their husbands.

“Radical change is what older Britons are telling us needs to happen for them to stay in the workforce. Employers with a focus on recruiting and retaining older workers on flexible working arrangements are telling us it makes good business sense, allowing them to recruit and retain talent while meeting the flexible needs of their customers."

She added that Britain had experienced a skills exodus during the recession and as the economy recovered it faced a very real threat of not having enough workers, a problem further exacerbated if skilled workers were forced to retire at 65.

Baroness Prosser commented: “Keeping older Britons healthy and in the workforce also benefits the economy more broadly by decreasing welfare costs and increasing the spending power of older Britons.

“Our research shows that to provide real opportunity to older workers, abolishing the default retirement age needs to be accompanied by a concerted drive by Government, employers and agencies to meet the health, caring and work needs of the over-50s to enable them to remain in the workplace. Greater flexibility can help to deliver this.”

Click here to access the Commission's proposals and research report.

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