No place for ageism in an ageing country – leader comment

Employers need to wake up to the fact that they need to accommodate older workers with one in four people in Britain set to be 65 or over by 2050.

Mavis Paterson, 81, right, demonstrated age is no barrier for feats of endurance when she became the oldest person to cycle the length of Britain, from Land's End to John O'Groats, after pedalling 960 miles in 23 days. (Picture: SWNS)

The dramatic surge in life expectancy during the second half of the 20th century – thanks in large part to the NHS – still appears to be news to some British employers.

For even though people are, on average, fitter and healthier than ever – and therefore capable of working beyond retiral age in many jobs – ageist attitudes persist. A report by MPs last year condemned the fact that a million people over the age of 50 were unemployed in the UK as an “unacceptable” waste of talent, blaming straightforward prejudice, casual ageism and unconscious bias.

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Despite such retrograde thinking, new figures from the Office for National Statistics reveal that more than 10 per cent of people aged 65 and over had a job in 2018, double the level in 2000.

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Age Scotland said one reason for this is that people want to work longer “because they love their jobs”. They may also work for one of the main reasons anybody does – the money. Many under the age of 65 who have failed to plan adequately for their pensions will be relying on being able to carry on working in their old age.

The trouble is, as Professor Wendy Loretto of Edinburgh University pointed out, there’s a gap between “employers’ and employees’ understanding of the opportunities and practicalities of working in later life”.

That gap is one we must all work to close, given that one in four people are expected to be aged 65 and over by 2050. While some people in their late 60s will be able to carry on doing their existing job, others may not be able to continue in precisely the same role but still have useful skills to offer or perhaps will be able to perform a part-time role, but not a full-time one.

Whatever the retirement age, employers need to recognise this and make the necessary changes to accommodate them. Those that do not will miss out on talented staff who offer that most vital of qualities, experience. And firms may also eventually face action from Government because if too many older people are economically inactive, this will become an increasing strain on the economy. Long-term success in business is based partly on identifying changes in the way of the world and this one is quite simple – an ageing population means an older workforce.

And, regardless of the business-sense, we should all be judged on our individual qualities, not pre-judged on our age.