There was strong cross-party support from the House of Lords recently for the Employers Forum on Age (EFA) campaign to scrap the default retirement age. In a debate tabled by Baroness Greengross, peers from all parties concurred that such discrimination against older workers in the UK was outdated and could have harmful effects on the economy.
The default retirement age (DRA) is an exception to the general principle of non-discrimination on the grounds of age, allowing employers to operate a mandatory retirement age of 65. There was agreement last night that the UK is undergoing a major culture change but there is still need to help overcome fears about removing the DRA, adequate support must be available to all employers who need help removing the default retirement age.
Influential peers such as the leading sociologist Lord (Anthony) Giddens and Conservative frontbench spokesman Lord de Mauley argued that in the current economic climate, retaining an experienced workforce is essential to employers. Their ability to train younger recruits and the knowledge they have assimilated over the years is vital in keeping any company well run during more difficult times. It is also beneficial to the economy that older workers make longer contributions to pension pots.
Lord Giddens pointed out 'anyone who studies pensions and has read the Turner report knows we need a higher proportion of older people in the labour force. They also know that the UK is not doing as well as some other countries, which have liberalised their age of retirement in a much more radical way than the UK has done.' He highlighted that, contrary to expectation, keeping older workers on beyond a statutory retirement age, does not reduce the proportion of younger workers entering the workforce, and in fact 'the opposite was true'.
Catharine Pusey, Director of the EFA comments: 'As Government minister Lord Carter pointed out, older workers will help businesses pull through and out of the economic downturn as markets improve, but conversely, they may be those who are often worst hit. It is therefore disappointing that the Government is not more forthcoming to anything beyond a review of the DRA in 2011, despite cross-party support for its abolition. The EFA will continue to increase awareness of this issue and campaign to eradicate this age discriminatory piece of legislation'.
And as Richard Fox, Partner at internationally recognized law firm and EFA member Kingsley Napsley , commented after the debate, ''The Government Minister put a brave face on it, emphasising as he did, that whilst the Government was not going to commit to 'reform' they were going to commit to 'review' it'.'
CBI claims that employers need a default retirement age to plan ahead and allow people to retire with dignity were rejected by the Lords, and labelled as 'an excuse for bad management' by Lord Oakeshott. If proper appraisal methods are implemented by employers, he argued, any other evaluation technique - such as age - would be redundant.
The overwhelming sentiment from the House of Lords was perhaps best summarized by Lord Stevenson, President of EFA, he commented: 'Being 65 is not what it used to be. I owe this insight to the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, who was one of the country's leading experts in geriatric medicine. When I reached the ripe old age of 60 a few years ago she consoled me by explaining that as a result of changes in diet, health, science and medicine, to get your equivalent age in your parent's generation you need to take 12 years off. Therefore, at aged 60 I was 48 in my father's years'.