Order. Mr Graham, please! The Member was standing to address me. [Interruption.] It is no use holding up your hands. Take notice of what is going on. It is totally unfair to the Member. It is a ten-minute rule Bill—please wait. You are important, but not that important.
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend Schedule 9 to the Equality Act 2010, to prohibit age discrimination by employers in relation to the provision of insurance or a related financial service;
and for connected purposes.
There are more workers working over the age of 65 than ever before. Nearly 1.5 million people, of whom around two thirds—a million workers—are employed, contributing 32 million hours of work in an average week. There has been a rapid acceleration in the shape and scale of older working. Sectors in which older workers are most likely to be employed are some of those which are particularly important to our economy and our communities. Around a quarter of such older workers are employed in healthcare, social work and education. The car industry and technical sectors also employ high numbers of older workers.
If we want people to have the option to work later in life, we have to give them the tools, support and legal protection that they need to do so. That includes protecting workers from discrimination solely on the basis of age. Age discrimination, like any other form of discrimination, is humiliating, demeaning and damaging. Right now, provisions in schedule 9 to the Equality Act 2010, introduced in 2011, make it lawful to discriminate on the basis of age in relation to health and insurance employment benefits.
Let me explain why that is wrong. I have a constituent, Stephen, who is in the Public Gallery today with his wife Marsha. Stephen is a train driver with Eurotunnel and has been since the tunnel first opened 30 years ago. Stephen worked on the building of the tunnel itself. At the age of 66, his statutory pensionable age, he did not get a birthday card from his bosses; he got a letter explaining that while it was not possible to sack him on grounds of age, Eurotunnel were terminating his health insurance, death in service and his income protection policy for long-term sickness and accidents.
Stephen is doing the same job at 66 that he did at 65, but now he does not get the same money’s worth or terms and conditions in relation to his contract of employment. In simple terms, Stephen does not get equal pay and conditions to another, younger, worker, simply by reason of his age. If Stephen falls ill, he cannot get the same access to speedy private healthcare that other people working for the company can get. That includes in relation to a workplace injury. If, heaven forbid, he died, his wife Marsha would no longer have compensatory insurance through death-in-service benefits. However, he is doing exactly the same job as someone else. It is the same job he did before he reached retirement age that he is doing now.
The attitude demonstrated by Eurotunnel seems to me to communicate to Stephen and to the wider employment community in Kent that it thinks that a person who is older is worth less. Stephen has made it clear to me that he loves working at Eurotunnel and wants to carry on working at Eurotunnel, but he does of course feel let down. I have written to the chief executive of Getlink, the operator of Eurotunnel, to ask that it reconsider Stephen’s case, not least in the light of his long service and commitment to the company. As of today, it has not yet done so, although it has said that it is discussing the matter with its insurers.
We need to tackle the issue if people are to stay in the workplace longer. We should tackle it because it is simply unfair and wrong. It needs to be tackled here in this place by changing the law, because—I want to be really clear about this—Eurotunnel is perfectly within its legal rights to act as it has done. It is entirely a matter for it whether it includes all workers fairly and equally or discriminates against those who have reached retirement age.
My Bill seeks to put that situation right for every older worker in this country by changing the law on workplace benefits so that older people are treated on the same basis as in any other part of their employment relationship. There was a time when a pregnant woman had to quit her job and just leave the workplace. Then there was a time when she did not have to lose her job, and it was said that if women were given paid maternity leave, they would not get jobs if they were of childbearing age. There are those who claim that this reform to end age discrimination would be costly to business, just as they used to say the same about women who went on maternity leave. As we know, however, employers found that retaining women in the workplace benefited not just mothers, but businesses themselves, which were able to retain the vital skills and knowledge of female workers.
In the same way, older workers have skills and knowledge gained over many years in the workplace. Treating older workers fairly will encourage them to stay and will benefit the companies that they work for. I remember a time when employers used to say that a woman did not need to work, did not need to get the same bonuses as a man or did not need to be offered overtime, because it was men who had the families to feed. We have outlawed that because equal pay at work is not about who is doing the work, but about what the work is. That applies every bit as much whether it is a younger or an older worker doing the same job.
Another excuse that has been given is that covering older people becomes more expensive for everyone because the premium for the company goes up. This is, of course, an absurd excuse. Applying that logic, would it be okay to exclude from employment benefits people who have a heart condition, cancer, a bad back, a disability or a chronic condition? Of course not. We would say that that was discriminatory and wrong, because it is.
Unless we tackle age discrimination, we will continue to have a working environment that is very difficult for people who are working in older age. An example of why the law needs to change is sitting here today in the Public Gallery: Stephen Horne, a man whose blood, sweat and hard work helped to build one of the great wonders of our time, the tunnel under the English channel from the UK to France. Stephen, a working man treated badly solely by reason of his age, is my constituent, and I am promoting this Bill because I do not think that he should have been treated in this disgraceful and unacceptable way—and neither should any other older worker.
The support that I have received right across the House has given me real heart. The Bill has received incredible cross-party support; I thank my hon. Friends the Members for North Devon (Selaine Saxby), for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart), for Southend West (Anna Firth) and for Blyth Valley (Ian Levy) and the hon. Members for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne) and for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), as well as the Bill’s sponsors and several others.
We are at our very best in this place when we come together to address injustices and right wrongs. I very much hope that Stephen’s Eurotunnel law will be a turning point for protecting older workers in the workplace in the years to come. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That Mrs Natalie Elphicke, Caroline Nokes, Dame Diana Johnson, David Linden, Jim Shannon, Bob Blackman, Rachael Maskell, Marion Fellows, Henry Smith, Tony Lloyd and Marco Longhi present the Bill.
Mrs Natalie Elphicke accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on