Petition Set up a Public Inquiry into age discrimination and ageism in the UK

Age discrimination and ageism are endemic in UK Society with negative stereotypes of older people providing justification for blatant discrimination across the economy. We believe the Equalities and Human Rights Commission has failed to grasp the scale of the problem and a Public Inquiry is needed.

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A Silver Voices Survey of 1000 over-60s found, for example, that a large majority had experienced negative ageist attitudes by the public and direct age discrimination by the finance/insurance sectors. Over half had missed out on retail special offers or services because they were unable to pay digitally. The drive by businesses and public bodies to force people to use apps to access services is accentuating the problems. A Public Inquiry should suggest ways to stamp out ageism in UK society.

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Government responded

This response was given on 10 August 2023

Most forms of age discrimination are unlawful across a range of fields under the Equality Act 2010. The Act enables individuals to challenge such unlawful behaviour and seek redress in the courts.

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Most forms of age discrimination against older people are unacceptable and unlawful across a range of fields including employment, the provision of services and the exercise of public functions under the Equality Act 2010 (the Act).

Differential treatment between people of different ages is permitted where this can be objectively justified. Where differential treatment is used, an organisation will be required to demonstrate, in the event of challenge, that the different treatment is ‘a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’. This means that there must always be a sufficient and justifiable reason for the different treatment. The range of aims that can justify less favourable treatment because of age is narrow.

There is an established link between growing older and acquiring a disability. The Act also provides strong protection relating to disability. It requires service providers to make reasonable adjustments to improve access to services for customers with disabilities to ensure that they are not placed at a substantial disadvantage compared to those without disabilities. The reasonable adjustment duty is anticipatory, which means that service providers and people exercising public functions must anticipate the needs of disabled people rather than wait to be informed of the need - for example, by providing information in an accessible format, or providing special computer software or additional staff support when required.

What is ‘reasonable’ will vary from case to case because of factors such as practicability, cost and resources. But a failure by a service provider to make reasonable adjustments could amount to direct disability discrimination under the Act.

While age discrimination is generally prohibited in the provision of goods and services, there are specific exemptions in the provision of financial services. This exception was provided so that financial services providers can still continue to use age as a criterion for pricing risk, as it is a key risk factor associated with for example, medical conditions. This means that it is not unlawful for a service provider to discriminate on the grounds of age in the provision or criterion of a service. Where the discrimination involves an assessment of risk, they must be able to show reliable data that demonstrates that age is a key risk factor associated with the service they are providing.

The operation of the Act is based on the long-established civil law principle that it is for an aggrieved person to enforce the law. It is the strong protections in the Act that enable older people to challenge such unlawful behaviour and ultimately seek redress in the courts.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has a monitoring and enforcement role in relation to the Act. It has enforcement powers to compel compliance with the Act, and to challenge organisations where required. If the EHRC suspects an organisation of committing a breach of the provisions, it can conduct an investigation and take action to ensure the organisation avoids a continuation or repetition of that breach. The EHRC is independent from government and makes its own operational decisions, and is not a front line legal services agency.

The Government is committed to upholding Britain’s long-standing record of protecting the rights of individuals against unlawful discrimination, including older people. Whilst we keep existing legislation under review, given there is an existing robust framework for age discrimination, a public inquiry is therefore not necessary.

Cabinet Office

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