Employment (Older People)

Work and Pensions written question – answered on 12th February 2004.

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Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the Government's policy on older people in the workplace.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for pensions, Department for Work and Pensions

Our Pensions Green Paper 'Simplicity, security and choice: Working and saving for retirement' reinforced our commitment to extend employment opportunities for older people, with a range of proposals including providing extra back-to-work help for over 50s, and a number of changes to tax and pension rules which will give individuals more choice and opportunity to stay in work longer. We have pledged to tackle age discrimination in the workplace, and we will be introducing age legislation covering employment, vocational training and guidance by 2006. We have also made it clear that in the forthcoming age legislation compulsory retirement ages are likely to be unlawful, unless employers can show they are objectively justified. Employers will therefore need to adopt more flexible approaches to retirement.

We are already encouraging employers to adopt non-ageist employment practices through our Age Positive Campaign. The campaign raises employers' awareness of the business benefits of an age diverse workforce and encourages a flexible approach to retirement to open up choice and opportunity for individuals to stay in work longer.

In 2002 we published an updated version of the Code of Practice 'Age Diversity at work: a practical guide for business'. This sets out the standards for non-ageist approaches to recruitment, training, promotion, redundancy and retirement. The code was first developed in 1999 with leading organisations including the CBI, TUC, the Employers Forum on Age and Age Concern. Evaluation shows that from 1999 to 2001 the number of companies using age in recruitment had already fallen from 27 per cent. to 13 per cent. and the number of companies having a policy against employing older workers had dropped from 14 per cent. to 7 per cent.

Since then we have continued to promote the business case for recruiting, training and retaining older workers through the Age Positive campaign and website, www.agepositive.gov.uk, and workshops for smaller businesses. Our research publications include 'Good Practice in the Recruitment and Retention of Older Workers' (December 2001), 'Flexible Retirement: A Snapshot of Large Employers' Initiatives' (June 2002), 'Working after State Pension Age' (2003) and 'Factors affecting the Labour Market Participation of Older Workers' (2004). Copies of these reports are available in the Library.

From Spring 1997 to Spring 2003 our policies have helped increase the employment rate for people aged 50 to State Pension age from over 64 per cent. to over 70 per cent., with nearly 900,000 more people aged 50 and over in work. This increase has been faster than the increase in the overall employment rate. Under New Deal 50 plus over 98,000 people aged over 50 have moved off benefits and gone back to work from April 2000 to March 2003, claiming the programme's financial help. We will continue to build on this to further increase the employment rate of older workers, who have a wealth of skills and experience that can benefit individual businesses and the economy as a whole.

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