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Age discrimination: Eurostar and an update from Jersey

Since we blogged about an age discrimination related story at the beginning of the week (the age limit on loans for student living costs) we thought we’d end the week with a look at a couple of other stories on the topic.

First is the row involving Eurostar, as reported here in The Telegraph, which is offering its lowest fares (£25) only to customers who have Facebook accounts. There have been accusations that this is likely to exclude older people. Janet Morrison, chief executive of Independent Age, is quoted as saying that firms must offer alternative deals to avoid “inadvertently discriminating against the elderly”.  I’m tempted to say that Eurostar is definitely excluding those who don’t use Facebook (and who knows in the future, other social media accounts) but this group might be made up of a mix of ages plus those who don’t like or want to use Facebook and those whose socio-economic status excludes them from easy access to technology more generally as well as to the internet.  It’d be interesting to see the age profile across the latter groups. Definitely a case where we need to look behind the potential age stereotyping.

And second is an update on Jersey. We blogged a while ago reporting with some surprise that age discrimination was then still legal in the island. Well, now it isn’t. ITV News reported on Tuesday that Jersey politicians had voted to extend discrimination law to protect islanders from being treated unfairly due to their age. This will apply to a number of areas including in the workplace, education, training, clubs or public premises.

Age limit on student loan breaches human rights legislation

Thanks to our friends at Lewis Silkin for their tweet earlier today which alerted us to this news item.

As reported here in the Herald Scotland, a judge has ruled that a ban on student loans for living costs to those over 55 is in violation of the human right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of age. The case was brought by a mature student Elizabeth Hunter, aged 56, who challenged a decision by Student Awards Agency for Scotland to deny financial support because she was one year older than the loan threshold.

A longer analysis of the decision is set out here on the Scottish Legal News website. It seems that the judge was not persuaded by the argument (in favour of the age restriction) that it was “much less likely” that a loan provided to a student aged 55 or over (compared to a younger student) would be repaid or repaid in full. Rather the judge relied on the primary purpose argument, namely examining whether the age restriction was consistent with an aim “to encourage greater access to higher education, primarily for those wishing to improve their skills and qualifications, and hence to improve the skills and qualifications of the workforce”. She found that it wasn’t consistent. Indeed, I think we can say that with longer working lives, it’s highly likely that those in their 50s and older might wish to improve their skills and qualifications in the context of work.

Of course the legal system in Scotland is different to that in England and Wales and some of the delegated legislation around education also differs. The NUS website has a handy guide to provision for mature students here.

According to this, the upper limit for a living costs student loan in England and Wales is 60 but here you can apply for a special support grant instead if you’re over 60. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in all parts of the UK as a result of this judgment.

CIPD issue new report on older workers

The CIPD have issued a fairly hefty (104 pages) report on older workers in five European countries, although thankfully a management summary is also available to download.

Here is our review, admittedly based largely on reading the executive summary:

  • perhaps unsurprisingly the language is one of optimization and productivity; the report therefore reflects the broader discourse of ‘successful’ ageing
  • older workers feature as an object of attention by organizations, as passive, to be made productive.
  • older workers are defined in contrast to ‘younger’ workers, different age categories appear (50 -plus, over 60), so who is the older worker and can we really treat ‘them’ all as a single generic group?  (It seems here that the CIPD suggest we might as well just say 50 is the divide, everyone below that is a younger worker and everyone over is an older worker.)
  • discrimination is recognized but age inclusivity is discussed only from the perspective of the (undefined) ‘older worker’ rather than seen as an all-ages issue.

The report provides a useful summary of some case studies in the countries studied and an overview of governmental policies but sadly falls short of really unpacking the issues in any depth.  Older workers are treated as a passive, homogeneous group.  There are some really glib sentences which I personally found quite patronizing – particularly the suggestion that at 50 I should be considered as ‘approaching retirement’ when my state pension age is really rather a long way off!  Sadly this overall tone made me less receptive to some of the useful issues discussed – such as older workers as carers – in the report.


Are recruiters (finally) recognising the problem with generational stereotypes?

From time to time we have breathed a sigh of relief and shouted ‘finally’ at the computer screen when a news article appears to recognize the problematic nature of generational stereotypes.  Sadly, for each article that raises this possibility there are hundreds more shouting about ways to recruit, work with, engage, motivate  Generation <insert preferred label here>.  Regular readers will known we are liable to rant about this every couple of weeks!

So I was cautiously optimistic to find not one but two articles today highlighting concerns about how recruiters are using age-related and generational labels.

This article in FastCompany (“Why your company needs to stop recruiting “Digital Natives”) goes someway towards an understanding of the issues, though there is some reinforcement of the terms digital native and digital immigrant as valid categorisations of cultural difference which is very unfortunate.  Nevertheless if recruiters take heed of the advice to simply and clearly specify the specific technical and digital skills relevant to the position then at least that should help!

The second article addresses the issue from a legal perspective as Bloomberg BNA ask “Wanted: Job Listings free of ageist stereotypes“.  Indeed it often takes a legal imperative to make the HR world take notice of these issues so lets hope they get the message on this one.  Note that this article is written from a US perspective and therefore deals with age discrimination impacting those over 40 only – in the UK any one of any age can make a claim of age discrimination.

Want to read the academic argument behind the news stories?  Try a read of our paper: Baby Boomers and the Lost Generation: On the discursive construction of generations at work.



Should we call #SpanishGP winner ‘the boy’?

The news is rightly heralding Max Verstappen’s victory in the Spanish Grand Prix as an amazing feat of driving, albeit one that was probably aided by the crash between Rosberg and Hamilton.

But @BBCsport seemed to want to focus on his age over and above his achievements: first calling him “the boy” and then “the teenager” – although interestingly this morning I can’t find the tweet featuring the first of those terms.

Yes he is the youngest ever winner and yes its a fantastic achievement but lets focus on his driving ability and not brand him as a kid – he is an adult after all.

Are older academics past their productive peak?

Ok, well this article in the Times Higher Education is a bit close to home, especially for academics such as Katrina and myself who are pursuing second careers. Thus (as we often have to point out) we are early career but not in our 20s! Indeed, we have similarly highlighted occasions when various bodies have wrongly and unhelpfully conflated ‘young researchers’ and ‘early career researchers’.

The title of this THE piece – reproduced above – invites examination of the claim that the quality of researchers declines with age. This involved asking five senior scientists to consider the data in respect of the claim and also to reflect on how they’ve contributed over the years.

Their conclusions and lines of argument are summarised in the following quotes:

‘The key to scientific productivity is not age but motivation and ability’

‘There are many reasons why I’ve never been able to replicate such a rate of publication, and none relates to declining mental powers’

‘I was still about as useful as I had ever been. While I was slower at some things, I had a better grasp of the big picture’

‘Simplistic assessments of productivity versus age fail to consider many biasing or confounding factors’

‘There aren’t many footballers over 35, but football managers have more in common with most of the rest of the workforce: they seem to get better with age’

So that would seem to be a fairly resounding ‘no’ to the title question. Worth having a detailed read.

Direct #age #discrimination in the workplace: Motive is key

This item in Personnel Today considers the impact of a Court of Appeal judgment on a claim for direct age discrimination involving Canada Life. The claim was brought by Dr Reynolds who was chief medical officer at the company from 1968 until 1992. Thereafter, she continued her work in this role but in a consultancy (not employment) relationship. Following concerns about her performance, the general manager gave Dr Reynolds notice of termination of her consultancy agreement in 2010. They fabricated the reason for the termination in an attempt to soften the blow. It seems that part of the concern centred around her refusal to use email or to change her working methods around the delivery of documents.

The case eventually reached the Court of Appeal which restored  an earlier tribunal decision dismissing her claim for age discrimination. The key finding is the Court’s confirmation that, in cases involving direct discrimination in the workplace, it is the motive of the decision-maker that is important and not those who may have influenced that decision.

In this case, the general manager was found to have come to the decision to terminate the consultancy agreement on his own. The general manager’s comment that Dr Reynolds was incapable of change was found to be unrelated to her age but based on his knowledge of Dr Reynolds and was thus held not to be discriminatory.

If the case had involved a number of individuals making the decision to terminate the consultancy agreement jointly, it would have been necessary to examine the mental processes of each of those individuals. So in essence it seems that it’s the motive of final decision-maker that is key. None of this seems to make it any easier to establish age discrimination.

Age discrimnation: its been a mixed week of good and bad news

Here’s a quick round up of some important announcements on Age Discrimination that have caught my eye this week.

In the good news category:

Featured in the Jersey Evening Post, Jersey is finally catching up and age discrimination legislation will be introduced soon (although shockingly it looks like legislation re disability discrimination is unlikely to be introduced until 2018).

A topic we have blogged about on several occasions, and indeed personally experienced, the issue of Mortgage companies age cut off for longer loans, features in the Daily Mail who announce that the Halifax is changing its cut off age for applying for a 25 year loan from 50 to 55.

However; when it comes to the bad new, its pretty bad according to the CIPD who report that almost half of employees hear a discriminatory comment every week.  This covers the full range of discrimination and is both shocking and disturbing.

Study reports: work longer, live longer

Widely reported across a range of media outlets, ranging from The Daily Express (UK), Fox News (US) and Australian Network News  a US academic study (based on a student’s masters thesis) hit the headlines in ‘proving’ that working longer means you live longer.

According to the Oregon State University website:

“The researchers found that healthy adults who retired one year past age 65 had an 11 percent lower risk of death from all causes, even when taking into account demographic, lifestyle and health issues. Adults who described themselves as unhealthy were also likely to live longer if they kept working, the findings showed, which indicates that factors beyond health may affect post-retirement mortality.”

I have read the paper, which uses secondary data and presents some useful statistical analysis of different outcomes.  The paper itself also acknowledges that paid work might not be the only form of activity that impacts mortality  and other later life outcomes although this was not picked up in the news coverage.  My major criticism of the paper is that there is no discussion of what ‘retirement’ actually means in today’s workplaces.  We have seen a shift away from a sense of a watershed age between work and retirement, issues that are not discussed in the paper at all.  While there is a brief mention of pressures and stresses that relate to retirement as a transitional stage, there is little discussion of how and why this is changing.  Looking back at historical data about retirement might offer some useful insights but unpacking how retirement is changing and in what ways is essential if we are to look forward.


#Ageism #racism and #sexism claims at the New York Times

A number of UK papers are reporting that legal proceedings have been filed in New York alleging discrimination based on age, race, and gender at the New York Times. The story is covered here by The Telegraph, The Guardian and The Mirror.

What has clearly engaged the interest of the British press is that the CEO of the newspaper is Mark Thompson, the former Director-General of the BBC. Many will recall that during his time in office there were several allegations over the BBC’s treatment of older women including newsreader Moira Stewart, Countryfile’s Miriam O’Reilly and Strictly Come Dancing’s Arlene Phillips. Miriam O’Reilly successfully sued the BBC for ageism. Amid allegations that Thompson has exported his “misogynistic and ageist attitudes” to the US, he has been personally named as a defendant in the legal case, along with the paper’s parent company and his fellow executive Meredith Levien, the paper’s chief revenue officer.

We are given a certain amount of detail about the claims. The claimants in the legal proceedings are Ernestine Grant and Marjorie Walker. Both work in the New York Times’ advertising department and are black women in their early 60s. They claim that the New York Times has been “engaging in deplorable discrimination“. It is said that the company’s advertising directors, who have previously been a mix of races and ages, have become “increasingly younger and whiter”. The lawsuit is also quoted as alleging that: “Unbeknownst to the world at large, not only does the Times have an ideal customer (young, white, wealthy), but also an ideal staffer (young, white, unencumbered with a family) to draw that purported ideal customer”. The paper denies any wrongdoing.


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