Workers would no longer be forced to retire at 65 under radical new Government proposals.

Older people would also be given the right to request flexible hours from their employer.

Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman says a major shake-up in the law is vital to smash the idea that people are 'past it' once they hit 65.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, Miss Harman, who will today announce a fast-track Government review of the retirement age, said it should be scrapped.

Britons would not be forced to work beyond 65, but would have the option to choose to - meaning they could stay on into their 70s or even their 80s.

Like parents with young children, they should also get a legal right to ask to work part-time or from home, or make a range of other variations to their hours, Miss Harman said.

The change in the law would cover staff who have already signed contracts that say they will retire at the normal age.

It would not alter the point at which the state pension can be claimed.

Latest figures show a record 1.4million workers have reached the state pension age of 60 for women and 65 for men. Companies are currently not compelled to agree to their requests to work on, but Miss Harman said the Government wanted to give people the legal right to do so.

Her plans will alarm employers. Business leaders have insisted that companies need some sort of 'cut-off point' when older workers must retire.

There are concerns that firms would be faced with 'bed-blocking' older workers refusing to go.

They will also be dismayed that Miss Harman is proposing further extensions to flexible working rights.

While employers will be able to decline the requests, they will have to give one of eight valid reasons for doing so.

Miss Harman, who is also equality minister, admitted: 'It is a difficult thing for employers, it is challenging to business, but at the end of the day practice has to change as the facts are changing.

'The retirement age is arbitrary, it bears no relation to people's ability. Think of people running their own business - they don't shut up shop suddenly when they reach the age of 65.

'People are remaining active and healthy well into their older years. But at the moment there is no legal backing for you if you want to stay at work, so what we are proposing is a massive public policy change.

'We do want people, if they want to, to be able to stay working for longer and flexible working is a way that enables them to do that.

'They could say they have decided they want to work three days a week and it would then be down to the employer to demonstrate why the business couldn't cope with that.'

Before 2006, the compulsory retirement age was set at 65 at the latest, and earlier for some jobs. But the Government changed the law so 65 is now regarded as a 'default' retirement age and workers can request to stay on.

Some companies, such as the Nationwide, have scrapped their retirement age and let people work until the age of 75.

Over the last year, pensioners are the only age group where the number of workers has risen. Many are being left with no option but to stay on as they realise they cannot live off the state pension, but have no savings to fall back on or have seen the likely income from company pensions slashed by the recession.

Keith Frost of the Age and Employment Network, which campaigns for the default retirement age to be scrapped, said workers need the option to remain in their jobs.

He said: 'It should be about what they contribute, not about the fact that they've just had a significant birthday'.

Any change in the law is expected to include provision for employers to remove older staff who are incapable, through ill health or frailty, of maintaining levels of performance.

In a speech on ageism today, Miss Harman will point out that in just 20 years' time half the adult population will be 50 or over and the number of people over 85 will have doubled.

The Government's new Equality Bill will ban what she will call the 'last legally permitted discrimination' against the elderly.

It will place a legal obligation on public bodies, such as planning authorities, to protect and promote the needs of older people when planning their services.

Age discrimination will be barred in the provision of goods and services so that older people are not unfairly disadvantaged on things such as travel insurance and loans. 

Article from The Daily Mail