The Centre for Research into the Older Workforce exists to study the working of the ageing workforce, in the UK and beyond.
The Centre was created in response to the growing policy interest in the ageing population, and to the wish of Governments to encourage more people to stay in paid work later in life.
We are particularly interested in understanding the attitudes to retirement and work after 50 of older people and employers; in how the skills of people over 50 can help overcome skills gaps and shortages; and in the kinds of education and training which might help in this.
The operation of the labour market, the processes of ageing, and education in later life are all well established fields of academic study. However, until recently there has been little research into their interaction in the over 50 labour market, and the role of education and training in the decisions to retire or stay in employment. If employers are to be persuaded to change their behaviour to make work more attractive, and individuals more prepared to stay in work, we need to know more about the factors which affect the decision to retire, and the willingness of employers to redesign work to make it more attractive to older people. The implementation of Age Diversity legislation in the UK in 2006 gives these questions added urgency.
The issues are particularly pressing in the South East of England, where skills gaps and shortages combine with housing shortages and transport constraints to limit growth in the regional economy. For this reason the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) provided the Centre with start up funding for its first three years. However, we have also undertaken work at national and international levels, and we aim to maintain a long-term centre of expertise on the older workforce.
CROW was, for its first three years, a Research Centre of the University of Surrey. In the summer of 2006 it moved and is now part of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE).
CROW has three principal roles:
- Research the working of the older workforce, independently and in collaboration with other agencies
- Raise awareness of, and provide information on, the ageing workforce and its implications for individuals, employers and the economy
- Support networking between agencies with interests in this field
The 2006 law on age discrimination
In 2000 the European Union agreed a "framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation". Among its provisions was an agreement that all Member States would outlaw age discrimination in work and vocational training by October 2006. This was formalised in the European Employment Directive (2000/78/EC)
In Spring 2006, after extensive consultation, the UK Parliament passed the Age Regulations The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 , which came into force in October 2006. They outlaw age discrimination in work and vocational education (including all Further and Higher education provision).
Key provisions of the legislation are that:
- age discrimination will be unlawful in work and vocational training. This includes recruitment, promotion, retirement, redundancy, all Further and Higher education (whether or not explicitly aimed at employment), the work of professional and qualifications bodies and providers of careers and educational advice and guidance
- it will be unlawful to force anyone to retire on grounds of age before the age of 65 (men or women). However it will be lawful for an employer to require staff to retire at or after the new “national default retirement age” of 65 (this provision is to be reviewed in five years).
- If an employer intends to require an employee to retire, at any age, he must give that employee notice. The employee then has the right to request to stay on, and a right of appeal if that request is refused.
- There are a number of circumstances where discrimination is permissible under the Regulations:
- To meet existing Statutory requirements (like the Minimum Wage Regulations);
- Where there is an “objective justification” for an age limit (likely to be very rare, since age is usually a proxy for some characteristic or capability which should be assessed directly);
- For positive action (e.g. to rectify an age imbalance in the workforce);
- For a legitimate business reason (provided that the action is proportionate).
- For some service related benefits (e.g. long service awards and incremental salary scales, provided that these do not extend for more than 5 years).
Age Discrimination Legislation and NIACE
NIACE is currently in discussion with Government and lawyers on the balance of the law concerning Age Discrimination Legislation and how this affects providers. NIACE’s overall concern has been that providers avoid any legal risk where they make an objective judgement about concessionary policy.
In NIACE’s view, a balance needs to be struck between two policy goals:
- Access. Since many older people have a cultural resistance to means-testing, there is a risk that the ending of universal concessions for older people will reduce participation amongst less affluent older people – who are in any case under-represented. Providers may conclude that the maintenance of a universal concession is the most effective way of securing participation by less affluent older people.
- Maximising the offer. With few exceptions adult learning opportunities always involve learners in meeting a proportion of the cost of provision. Since there is never enough money to meet all adults’ aspirations for learning, NIACE has long believed that everyone – individuals, employers and the state – needs to invest more. Asking people who can afford to pay full fees means public investment can stretch further maximising the opportunities on offer. Since some people over 60 or 65 can afford to pay, concessions to them can have the effect of reducing the budget that can be used to broaden the curriculum offer.
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