Age UK has called on the coalition government to do more to tackle age discrimination if it is to push through proposed benefit reforms likely to boost the number of older workers returning to the jobs market.
The charity estimates that plans to transfer Incapacity Benefit claimants onto Employment Support Allowance could increase the number of older people returning to the workforce by more than three quarters of a million over the next four years.
But according to figures published by the Department of Communities and Local Government as part of the Citizenship Survey: 2009-2010 at the end of last week, ageism is still the single biggest factor behind discrimination in recruitment.
More than 300,000– or 4% - of all workers aged 50 or over indicated that they had been refused a job on the basis of their age over the last five years. This is despite the introduction of Age Regulations legislation in 2006, which means that employers can be sued for age discrimination.
The number of ageism-related cases received by the Employment Tribunal has nearly doubled to 5,200 in financial year 2009-2010 from 2,900 in 2007-2008, however.
Michelle Mitchell, director of Age UK, said: “Before forcing people to rejoin the job market or work for longer, the government must lay the foundations of a better job market for older people, with fairness and flexibility as cornerstones.”
The implementation of the Equality Act in October this year offered it an opportunity to refocus attention on the need to tackle age discrimination in the labour market once and for all, she added.
Recently published unemployment figures indicated that two out of five unemployed workers over 50 had been out of work for more than a year – the highest incidence of unemployment among any age group.
Chris Ball, chief executive of The Age and Employment Network, said: “Employers of all shapes and sizes need to urgently wake up to the fact that people will need to work longer and make sure that their recruitment policies are fair. Extending working lives will not succeed without this overdue shift in culture.”