The Deputy Prime Minister yesterday launched a flagship “youth contract” programme to help 18 to 24 year-olds into work, as he said unemployment is having a “scarring effect” on young people.
Under the scheme, the taxpayer will give companies such as Morrisons and Barclays more than £2,200 for every new young person they employ.
However, lawyers immediately warned that people over the age of 25 may have a legal case against employers who use the scheme, because they are more likely to lose out on jobs to younger applicants.
The Government’s offical guidance advises employers to seek their own legal advice about taking part in the scheme. It also admits that older workers could sue the Government itself.
“It is possible that a legal challenge could be brought against DWP,” it says. “If this happened, we would strongly argue that the Youth Contract, including the wage incentive scheme, was justified.
“It is also possible that employers could face a legal challenge. If this happened, an employment tribunal would wish to consider the employer’s reasons for participating in the scheme. Each case will turn on its merits.”
Camilla Palmer, an age discrimination lawyer at Leigh Day, said older workers may well have a good case against the Government or employers.
“A 25-year-old is not going to be able to take advantage of this scheme, even though they may be in exactly the same position as someone who is 24,” said Ms Palmer.
“I would be the first to agree that youth unemployment is a big issue. But in my view it should not just be open to young people. It’s up to the courts ultimately to say whether it’s justified.”
Joseph Shelston, an employment law expert from Brabners Chaffe Street, said age discrimination cases were possible, but tribunal judges might also simply accept that the scheme was justified as a matter of public policy.
“Theoretically, I can see potential claims, if there is a certain number of jobs at an organisation earmarked for younger workers and it limits the number of jobs in the open market,” he said.
Andreas White, employment partner at Kingsley Napley, said the scheme was "prima facie age discrimination" but it would be possible for governments and employers to argue that it is "objectively justified in the circumstances".
"My own view is that this scheme should be capable of objective justification because it's addressing the very serious issue of growing youth unemployment," he said.
"The scheme could face legal challenges directed at the Government, or employers directly, but ultimately I would be surprised if they succeeded."
Michelle Mitchell, charity director general at Age UK, called for a similar scheme to help older people find jobs, since they are the worst affected by long-term unemployment.
“The Government is absolutely right to take measures to help reduce youth unemployment," she said. "However the statistics show that long term unemployment is higher in the over 50s than any other age group, and the Government needs to take similar measures to get older people back to work.”
Article from the Telegraph