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Trouble brewing on ageism

Who'd have thought that two such distinct April news stories could have such close links? Or that the implications for the attitudes and actions of anyone between 50 and 70 could be so significant?

Take the Employers Forum on Age (EFA), an independent network of leading employees. It published joint research with Procter & Gamble to mark the six-month anniversary of the new regulations making age discrimination unlawful.

The study made depressing but all too predictable reading, concluding that ageism is still alive and well in the British workplace. One in five believed age had stood in the way of getting a job, while more than one in 10 said they had witnessed ageist behaviour in the workplace since the regulations came into force last October.

This follows on from a similar survey produced in 2006 by Age Concern with the University of Kent, said to be the first comprehensive survey of ageism in Britain. It found that ageism was indeed prevalent in the UK, with older people characterised as 'warm' but not 'competent'. Translated into brutal reality, this often means exclusion from employment opportunities and positions of power or decision-taking.

This might seem bad enough. But then take it in conjunction with the other big event that dominated the headlines at the beginning of April: the release to The Times, after two years of that newspaper's determined efforts, of the papers surrounding the decision by Chancellor Gordon Brown to raid pension funds by £5bn a year.

Those papers purportedly show, despite protestations to the contrary, that Brown and his advisers were clearly warned about the potentially devastating impact on pensions. Numerous stories of individual hardship for those in the private sector have followed.

The common thread running through all these tales of financial woe and broken promises is that those affected will have to continue to work much longer than originally planned. But here's the problem: where exactly will the jobs come from? There are only so many who can work at B&Q or a supermarket check-out.

Because of this, many pensioners are having to curtail or cancel those long-term plans they had for enjoying their Third Age and resent this deeply. For younger baby boomers watching this happen, a growing distrust of pensions could see more money being taken out of funds and kept in building societies or ploughed into property.

Politicians who don't respond will get short shrift from this powerful group of voters. As one 63-year old whose plans for a comfortable retirement have been thwarted told a newspaper, "If Gordon Brown is elected to power I am going straight to New Zealand House. I don't think he can be trusted."

 

Laura Mazur
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2007