Monday 4 April 2011

Over 50s ageism in the councils

Over the course of two months - Andrew Robertson and Philip Mortiboy conducted research for the over 50s campaign and support organisation Wise Owls to see if London Borough or English County Councils were being ageist in their recruitment and redundancy practices. Using the Freedom of Information to secure data from the councils, the findings made stark reading if your an older worker.

In October 2010, we contacted all the FOI teams of all the London Borough and English County Councils requesting the age diversity of their staff including the age spread of those recruited and made redundant in the last year. The age breakdown was under 25, 25-49, 50-64, 65+.

The data revealed that over 50s made up on average nearly 60% of all redundancies within the councils. This is over three times the average of the UK workforce nationally, which also shows over 50s redundancies across the UK to be at their worst rate for over a decade (ONS). These figures come at a time when massive cuts are still to take place throughout the public sector, leaving older workers on the fearful for their future.

This calculation is not simply a calculation of the percentage of all redundancies within the workforce that are over 50. It is calculated based on the existing over 50 workforce, so the age structure of the workforce is already taken into account

Further condemnation focussed on the recruitment practices of the councils after FOI data showed the over 50s are less than half as likely to be recruited than the under 50s. The proportion of new recruits to the councils in the last year who were over 50 accounted for as little as 18% of recruits for County councils just and 10% of recruits in London Boroughs. This is despite 35% of the councils’ workforce being made up of over 50s.

A further blow to the job security of older workers is the liklihood of over 50s finding reemployment. Analysis of the ONS data showed that since the recession began, the reemployment rate of over 50s has fallen to its lowest level in a decade. In the ‘boom’ years of 2004-2006, over 50s accounted for over 20% of all reemployment nationally. In the last year that figure fell to 16%.

It is clear that age is now the leading factor in making staff redundant and that it is the over 50s women and men from all backgrounds who will take the biggest hit from the Coalition’s cuts.

Chris Walsh the Director of Wise Owls, said: ‘There seems to be a complacency within government that by forcing staff aged 50+ to take redudancy it will be less painful than for younger workers.'

Traditionally older workers have been ‘encouraged’ to take ‘voluntary’ redundancy when cuts are needed and it looks as if that mindset has not changed. However experience from the last cull of older council workers in the 90s showed that those made redundant often failed to get another job, leaving themselves and their families in poverty, while denuding the council of key knowledge and experience, which meant some had to be re-hired as consultants.

The research was carried out as part of Wise Owls wider ‘Age Equality’ campaign aimed at promoting age diversity in the workplace, demanding that the government carry out an Age Equality Impact Assessment to include an age audit of employees across the public sector.

Currently the government has failed to analyse the impact of the cuts on age, either in relation to the numbers being laid off or by those who suffer from the impact of the cuts in public services. There are no existing government baseline figures to show whether age equality in the workplace is improving or getting worse. The lack of interest in the matter was highlighted when the Shadow Solicitor General Catherine McKinnell asked the Chief Secretary Danny Alexander if " he will estimate the proportion of those made redundant in the public sector during the comprehensive spending review period who will be aged 50 or over at the time of being made redundant?" His response was brief. The Office for Budget Responsibility has not published forecasts for individual age groups. It will be for individual employers to determine the exact work force implications of their settlements."

Mr Walsh added: "We think the lack of any movement on an age audit is because either they don’t care or do not want the public to know the full extent of employment ageism in the public sector. These statistics offer a starting point for the government to take up this issue by publishing a league table of all public sector employers in relation to age and employment and to start to carry out and publish age impact assessments of their cuts. This blatant attack on staff because of their age is both immoral and illegal.”

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