Ageism in the UK

Lucy Kellaway has written a good article in the FT about ageism. Frances Coppola seems to have had a light bulb moment when reading it.

So did I.

The article starts with the story of  Ian Tapping, a project manager at the Ministry of Defence, called a meeting with HR. He had been in dispute with his employer and wanted to make a bullying and harassment claim. In the course of the conversation his HR manager asked when he intended to retire — Tapping, who was in his early sixties, subsequently quit and sued the MoD for age discrimination.

Kellaway remarks drily  “last month he won his case”.

Demography is our destiny

If you recognise that phrase, you’ve probably been listening to Amol Rajan’s excellent podcasts on rethinking population

The podcasts are based on  an amazing insight  = that to have a positive destiny a country must either procreate faster, open its borders to other ethnicities or make an ageing workforce more productive; infact he argues you have to do two out of three . Even if demographic isn’t the only pointer to our destiny as a nation, it is a powerful pointer to why things have happened in our past. Think Japan, Nigeria, Indonesia, continental Europe, then think UK.

Asking people when they are expecting to retire, isn’t encouraging people to work longer but until recently people had to leave jobs because they had reached normal retirement age. Retirement wasn’t a choice, but an obligation (with a pension as compensation).

Lucy Kellaway rightly points out that Britain is doing a good job of keeping older workers productive. It’s a lot easier working longer than it was even 20 years ago. And we are taking steps to get people to think of pensions as a moveable feast which are paid when we need them rather than when we want them (well at least that’s how the State Pension looks to work).

The idea that older workers should move out of the way for younger and thrusting colleagues is still prevalent, but as I have found at AgeWage, the choice of moving into a “senior” position in an organisation, is quite an easy one to make. I enjoy having the chance to use my experience and not compete with more energetic colleagues for work I am no longer best placed to do.

If this represents a happy scene of intergenerational harmony , then good. We want happiness in our workforces. We do not have the problems of other countries with gerontocracy, where companies are dominated by the old that they stagnate. Diversification includes age and apart from a few professions (pension trustees being one), I had thought , till I read Lucy’s article that  Britain is remarkably un-ageist.

But this is what Lucy is saying

Not only is age the poor relation in diversity policies, it is still perfectly acceptable in polite society to be rampantly ageist.

And she argues that we are as a society institutionally ageist.

These assumptions about older workers — that we lack energy, can’t do tech, can’t generate new ideas — are not only widespread but are acquired so young they seem to be almost innate.

A side of me wants to be outraged with Frances and Lucy and a part of me wants to put my feet up and conform to the lazy, tech-stupid fogeyism that I’m supposed to enjoy.

Maybe I will go gently into that deep night but I suspect that my next 30+ years (let’s hope), will be spent wondering whether I’m acting my age or becoming a victim of age (and maybe ageism).

Some days I can relate to Lucy’s self characterisation in a peice she wrote on her 60th bithday

Though I don’t object to being classed as Young-Old, the phrase does not quite capture how I feel right now. A better description would be Aged Adolescent

I do not have Lucy or Jo’s or Frances’ boundless self-confidence, but I do feel more certain with age that I have a place in society and that I am one of the lucky few.

But there are 2m older people in the UK , in age poverty and for them there are diminishing opportunities. For them it is both passion but compassion is needed.

Rather than pulling up the drawbridge and enjoying the fruits of a lucky working life, I would like to labour for a reduction in age poverty through the creation of better means of targeting those who need financial support- with financial support.

Having worked for forty years in pensions, I am at last finding the purpose of that work, which is one of the benefits of getting older. That’s my anti-ageist cream that’s keeping me going!

Lucy Kellaway

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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2 Responses to Ageism in the UK

  1. Jnamdoc says:

    I do not think the young will see it quite the same way – they will eventually tire of and react to policy biase of the silver political class, if history is to be respected. COVID responses, pension apartied (DB for the baby boomers, DC for the rest), and property rights are all scewed in favour of the aged, and its not sustainable. Eventually the young either through emigration or some form of revolution will react and re-balance?

  2. Tim Simpson says:

    Hello Henry,
    Ageism in the UK
    I agree with what you say. At 76 I have to…! My suggestion is to ‘Keep on running’ and keep on working.

    Both my parents were active until the last three years of their lives. My father (farmer) died at 82 and my mother at 89. The NHS advise that, nowadays, it is the lack of exercise in young people that (other than diet) causes poor health. Mental illness is now quite prevalent they report and I don’t include work-related stress in that comment e.g. Ian Tapping.

    In regard to what you have reported of Lucy Kellaway’s article and the commendation regarding Jo Cumbo’s confidence, I suggest that gaining confidence is one of the benefits of a working life: one obtains experience in how to relate the ‘rough with the smooth’. Many of us are not born wise thus, their wisdom is gained from general experience. I haven’t been to university, so was not extensively trained in how to analyse facts and situations and then report on my assessments. On the other hand, I have worked with those who have and are very well qualified, yet I have been surprised that they are not understanding why something obvious is not right.

    There have always been middle aged people who, for want of a better description, just do things ‘by the book’. Equally I have met as many younger ones who operate the same way. Computers won’t change that, especially if that is what the employer seeks.

    Nowadays I feel that the UK culture is on the definitive change and that ‘working on’ is just one part of it all; albeit political. No doubt, in certain firms, it will be the cause of criticism of ‘dead men’s shoes’. While in others it may be welcomed, especially if that person is both efficient and popular. I worked until I was 69 on the arrangement that if my Manager thought I was ‘losing it’ they would tell me and I would then resign.

    Kind regards,
    Tim Simpson

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