Employment (Age Limits)

Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 4:52 pm on 17th November 1992.

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Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody , Crewe and Nantwich 4:52 pm, 17th November 1992

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the use of age limits in job appointments, training schemes, promotion, retirement and advertising of jobs; to make other provision relating to employment; and for connected purposes. I was brought up to believe that only young men liked young wine and young women, but unfortunately that immaturity seems to be spreading. One of its more unhappy aspects is that it seems to have spread increasingly to those who seek to employ others.

Each of us who knows the destabilising effect on our constituents of unemployment knows that one of the utterly depressing and often degrading aspects of the search for work is rejection because of highly subjective criteria which are not always clear.

In the past two years, it has become increasingly plain to me that many of my constituents are facing a new and far more subtle barrier than the forms of discrimination that they have met before. Many of them find that there are not only advertised age barriers but that, if they send in their curriculum vitae without their age on the document, they are not even shortlisted, irrespective of the qualities that they might bring to the job.

That is not only an enormous waste of tremendous talent and ability: it is totally uncalled for. When unemployment is high, we understand that employers will want the best person, male or female, but if artificial barriers are raised such as a spurious attempt to suggest that people of a certain age are not capable of doing an efficient task, whole groups of people will be discarded from the employment list without even having the opportunity to present themselves for interview.

Some of the examples are extraordinary. It should be unlawful to specify an upper age in job advertisements. Mrs. V. of Essex, who was in her early 50s and was an experienced clerical assistant, offered to do any office job, for which she had considerable qualifications. She learned not to apply for jobs in companies which described themselves as having "a lively, young office". The only job offers that she has had are as office cleaner or canteen cook, for neither of which she has any experience.

Mr. W. of London, who is in his very early 50s and is a senior corporate executive with international experience, has been applying for posts for over a year, with no success to date. Several prospective employers told him that they were looking for younger members for the management team.

The one example which struck me particularly was that of Mrs. Y. of Manchester, in her 50s, who was a secretary with word processing, shorthand and all the other office skills. Finding it difficult to get any job at the same level, she pointed out that she had worked for the personnel departments of several large companies where job advertisements were drawn up, stating arbitrary age limits. She told Age Concern: I've worked in offices where job adverts are drafted, and I know for a fact that age limits are plucked out of the air, and that they are based on sheer prejudice alone, amid such remarks as 'we don't want any wrinklies here spoiling our fun'. That would be laughable if it were not so devastating for the people concerned.

In my constituency, we have lost over 2,000 jobs in the last two years, and the result has been appalling for those involved. It was frightening when men in their 50s in engineering and women in their 40s in the rag trade were told that they were too old to take alternative employment. Now, even people of 38, with full apprenticeships and over 20 years' work in the same firm, are told that they are not of an appropriate age to apply for alternative jobs. Executives in their late 40s, with 20 years' experience in car leasing, are being told by other branches of their own firms that it is better to have a young, inexperienced person of 20 in the job.

The position is not only alarming but self-defeating. As a nation, we are not training young people, and we are rapidly creaming off those in their 30s, 40s and 50s who have experience and who are capable of contributing to our affluence. Where will we end up if we continue in that way?

Baroness Phillips of Fulham, who introduced the Bill in another place, said that she had never had an idea or project where she had not been told that it was too difficult or that there were too many problems. She believed that such discrimination should not be allowed to continue. Baroness Phillips explained exactly what she wanted. I must stress that, as she was in her 82nd year, she was not thinking of herself. She thought that it was important that it should be unlawful to refuse a job on the grounds of age, and that it should be totally unlawful to include an upper age limit in conditions for eligibility for promotion or to refuse promotion on the grounds of age alone.

Once upon a time, older Members in the House were regarded as valued members of the establishment and as having something to offer. Perhaps we should understand that experience and maturity are not always qualifications that should be ignored.

Unfortunately, such problems are now appearing in the public sector. Nurses in their late 40s with 21 years' clinical experience in specialties are being replaced by people well down the scale, but not because they are incapable or because they do not have something to contribute: they are being told that they are being replaced because there should be a "turnover"—for which read, untrained nursing assistants who are cheap labour. "Cheap labour" will be the cry of many of those people.

The House should seriously consider the implications of such attacks on those who most need our support. Such a short-sighted policy will cost our economy dear, and it is a policy that we cannot afford to sustain. I ask the House seriously to grant me leave to bring in the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody, Mrs. Linn Golding, Mr. Norman Hogg, Mrs. Barbara Roche, Mr. Robert N. Wareing, Mr. Barry Jones and Mr. David Winnick.