Age Equality Commission

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:28 pm on 25 April 2001.

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Photo of Mr Lawrie Quinn Mr Lawrie Quinn Labour, Scarborough and Whitby 4:28, 25 April 2001

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the establishment of an Age Equality Commission to advise the Government on discrimination issues in relation to older people. Almost a year ago, on 12 July, the House gave permission for the first time for Parliament to establish an age equality commission. As we had a shared background in engineering before we entered the Palace of Westminster, Mr. Speaker, I believe that you will appreciate why this civil engineering MP believes that all problems can be solved with the application of endeavour and resolution. An engineer will always relish the challenge of problem solving, and takes delight in selecting the correct tool for the job from his toolbox.

The hundreds of constituents who encounter the daily barriers of age discrimination face persistent and recurring problems that are a blight on their everyday lives. Across the country, thousands of ordinary British people hoped that they had every right to expect a fair deal as they got older. Far too often, the reality is quite different from those hopes and aspirations.

Working in Scarborough and Whitby with the local Age Concern group and the Association of Retired Persons over 50—commonly known as ARPO50—I have tried to set up challenges to the individual cases that have been brought to me in my constituency surgeries. However, this engineer feels that the lack of appropriate parliamentary tools for the job has made the whole procedure of trying to solve those problems far more complicated than it needs to be. That is why I hope that the House will join me in calling for an end, by law, to the discrimination against older people in work, health, public services and the consumer market. We need to have action in law as soon as possible.

I believe that the House should be doing all in its power to create new opportunities for older people to work, volunteer, learn and retrain where necessary, so that they can play the fullest possible part in our society. My constituency is well known as containing a large number of people aged over 50, and my constituency experiences tell me that we in the House should fulfil their hopes and give them a significant and vibrant role in the society in which they want to play a part. In health, housing and the care systems, we need to provide the opportunity of independence and security for all, particularly my elderly constituents. Let us be honest: many of us who are present now will eventually find ourselves over the age of 50. It would therefore be inappropriate for me not to declare a personal interest in that regard.

One year on, what has actually happened? I believe that there has been some progress, but it is modest progress. I commend the Government for tackling ageist attitudes and practices in our national health service, many examples of which have been brought to me in my constituency surgeries. A good start has been made, but, owing to the lack of the readily available parliamentary toolbox that I mentioned earlier, the battle against age discrimination is far from won. The issue needs a comprehensive focus: we need a comprehensive campaign to tackle it head on. I hope that my proposals for the establishment of an age equality commission will lead to a national crusade against age discrimination, thereby changing attitudes in our public services to ensure that older people are given equal treatment.

I also commend the excellent work done at national level by Age Concern and its partners during the "debate of the age" programme last year. My Bill seeks to build on the successes of that programme, and the evidence that was gathered during the national consultation. It seeks to encourage and support the Government in the fight against age discrimination in which they need to engage.

Earlier this month, the employers forum on age, chaired by Howard Davies, produced an important yet simple manifesto entitled "End Ageism in Employment". I hope that the newly formed commission would see it as an early priority to consult and involve employers throughout business in order to develop effective, practical, workable age legislation before the deadline of 2006. The commission must focus on the implementation of flexible options at the end of people's working lives, and it must include a review of the age bars that exist in current employment law. Given that age discrimination in employment costs the country more than £26 billion every year, promoting age diversity in the workplace will be crucial to ensuring the United Kingdom's future competitive and economic success. That key part of the toolbox for our economic future is built into my Bill.

The simple fact is that people continue to live longer and healthier lives than ever before, many having left paid employment in their early 50s. Birth rates continue to fall, and far fewer people are coming into the labour market. Recent surveys across business have established that 91 per cent. of firms are affected by skill shortages, but many employers continue to base employment decisions on grounds of age. I deplore that.

I believe that the employers forum on age offers a promising start. The forum, set up by 170 of the major public and private sector employers, representing nearly 10 per cent. of the UK's work force, is correct to place ageism at the top of the political agenda. Ageism in employment just does not tie in with the country's economic prospects.

I hope that the House will send a clear signal to Government by supporting the Bill. I hope that that will encourage Ministers to review, as a matter of urgency, current employment practices not only in wider industry but, in particular, in the civil service, thereby promoting age diversity and increasing participation in that service by all individuals, irrespective of age. I hope that the Government will then share that practice with wider industry, so that proper legislative propositions may emerge from that test-bed.

I express a simple engineer's view that this debate is of prime importance to our nation's future, as well as very timely. Next week, the House will have further opportunities to consider similar issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) and by the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies). That cross-party approach to the issue of ageism will be appreciated by all hon. Members, and I am encouraged by the support that my proposals have received from members of all political parties in the House. I hope that my proposal finds favour with the House, and that the progress of the Age Equality Commission Bill will offer dignity, security and opportunity to many of our fellow citizens over the age of 50.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Lawrie Quinn, Mr. Austin Mitchell, Ann Keen, Mr. Jim Dobbin, Ms Dan Taylor, Mr. Alan Campbell, Angela Smith, Mr. Richard Allan, Ms Rosie Winterton, Mr. Paul Burstow and Mr. Bob Blizzard.