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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Dealing with Age Discrimination

Thursday, April 27, 2006

At a conference dealing with age discrimination Meg made the following remarks.

 

I’m delighted to be here today.

 

I want to explain the further consideration we are giving to age discrimination as part of the Discrimination Law Review.

 

We set up this review last year to look at existing discrimination legislation with a view to bringing forward proposals for a clearer and more streamlined framework of law to produce better outcomes for people who experience disadvantage. 

 

It is intended to publish the review’s findings as a Green Paper this summer. This will feed into the development of a Single Equality Bill, which we plan to introduce during this Parliament in line with our manifesto commitment.  The purpose of a Single Equality Bill is to have simpler, clearer framework which will be easier both for businesses to understand and apply and for people experiencing discrimination to use.

 

A great deal of detailed work is being undertaken in the review. One of the issues we are considering very carefully is the issue of unfair age discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services.

 

I understand people’s concern about examples of age discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services - concern that it leads to unequal or unfavourable outcomes.  Unfair discrimination is plainly wrong.  For example, an older motorist in good health and with an excellent driving record could find that they are not able to hire a car whilst their own is off the road, because of their age.

 

Undue weight can be given to a person’s age in assessing their ability to benefit from medical treatment. Reliance may be placed on out of date evidence, or evidence not even considered, in making these judgements and this should be open to challenge.

 

Age discrimination is not uncommon.  According to recent research published by Age Concern and the University of Kent, 29% of people report that they have suffered discrimination on grounds of age - more than report having experienced discrimination on any other ground.  Worryingly, almost 30% of respondents thought that there was more prejudice related to age than five years ago, and almost the same proportion thought that it would increase over the next five years.

 

Although it can affect people of any age, age discrimination affecting older people is of particular concern.  The over 50s are forecast to increase from being a third of the population now to 40% by 2021.  We have to promote cultural change that ensures older people are encouraged to enjoy full and active participation in society. Without this full participation we will waste a huge amount of human resource and potential.

 

Not all age limits are unfair or damaging.  Many age limits are there to allow efficient and appropriate delivery of services, such as treating children on paediatric wards. Other age limits operate to provide important benefits or services because people in that age group have specific needs and circumstances - winter fuel payments for example.

 

Concessionary rates for older or younger people are commonplace - in cafes, cinemas or leisure centres.  I don’t think that many people regard these as being unfair, and we don’t want to prevent them. They offer business a useful means of raising revenue during off-peak periods, and are much appreciated by the community at large.

 

A Complex Area

Discrimination is a complex area.  It’s important therefore that we understand the issues properly before we make proposals. We do not want negative unintended consequences.

 

We will also frame our proposals to strike the right balance between tackling harmful discrimination, and retaining the ability of both the public and private sectors to differentiate on age where this is appropriate.

 

Any new regulations should adhere to ‘better regulation principles’: These are

  • to be proportionate to the problem that they are trying to solve,
  • to be targeted so that side-effects are minimised,
  • to be clearly defined and communicated,
  • and to be consistent. 

The Disability Law Review is also looking at the duties on public authorities to promote equality and eliminate discrimination.  The duty in respect of race has been in force since 2002 and similar duties for disability and gender will come in December this year and April 2007 respectively.  The review will consider how to ensure that duties are focused on outcomes and that any proposal for an integrated duty across all the discrimination strands include age.

 

As I said earlier, the review’s findings will feed into the process of deciding what should be in the Single Equality Bill, which we will introduce later this Parliament. 

This makes it all the more important that you consider how this might affect your business.  When we publish the Green Paper there will be a full public consultation.  There will be a good opportunity to let us know your views.

 

These issues will be explored in more detail in one of this afternoon’s sessions, which will be lead by officials from the Discrimination Law Review team.  So if you do have particular questions that you would like to raise about any of the issues I’ve spoken about, then you might like to take part.

 

To conclude, we are considering very carefully the issue of age discrimination in goods, facilities and services.  We want to bring forward proposals that are workable, that tackle unfair discrimination whilst retaining age differentials where this is appropriate.  We want your views and ideas so that our proposals are proportionate and practical.  I hope that you will take part in our consultation exercise this summer after we announce our initial proposals. 


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