The number of age discrimination claims has increased sharply over the last year, official figures have shown.
Statistics from the Ministry of Justice, analysed by Rest Less, found there were 3,668 complaints of age discrimination made to employment tribunals in 2020, up from 2,112 in 2019 – an increase of 74 per cent and the largest rise of any complaint.
This is despite the total number of complaints to employment tribunals dropping over the same period, from 183,207 in 2019 to 180,430 in 2020.
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Rest Less said this is happening at a time when the number of over-50s unemployed is increasing.
Unemployment among the over-50s reached 426,000 in the final three months of 2020, a 48 per cent increase on the previous year. Redundancies in this age group also reached 284,685 last year, a 79 per cent year-on-year rise.
With more than one million over-50s still furloughed and concerns that new coronavirus variants could delay reopening, Stuart Lewis, founder of Rest Less, said he feared “a new wave of redundancies” could be on the horizon.
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“‘We know that the pandemic has exacerbated age discrimination in both the workplace and the recruitment process. We also know that, once made redundant, older workers are more likely to drift into long-term unemployment than their younger counterparts,” said Lewis.
“These factors, combined with the need for many to keep working until they are 66 to access the safety net of the state pension, are leading to an increase in the number of employment tribunal cases based on age discrimination – and it’s likely to get worse.”
Patrick Thomson, senior programme manager at the Centre for Ageing Better, said it was “worrying” that so many older workers were needing to pursue employment tribunals.
“We know that age is often the last unspoken and accepted form of discrimination in the workplace,” he said, urging employers to do more to remove biases from recruitment processes and create age-inclusive cultures.
“It has never been more important for employers to make sure they are genuinely recruiting the best person for the job, regardless of age – and retaining their experienced older workforce,” he added.
UPDATE: Since publishing, People Management has learned there was a spike of 920 age discrimination complaints made in Scotland in October 2020 – accounting for a quarter of all age discrimination complaints made last year – which could be attributed to coordinated public sector claims following a 2018 Court of Appeal ruling on pensions.
In response, Rest Less noted that excluding the figures from Scotland, England and Wales had still seen a 30 per cent rise in claims for age discrimination last year, whereas the total number of claims for all reasons only increased by 7 per cent.
Stuart Lewis, founder of Rest Less, said: “While some of the rise can be attributed to a specific case based in Scotland, the underlying trend of age discrimination claims is clearly up year on year and we know that the pandemic has exacerbated age discrimination in both the workplace and the recruitment process.
“We also know that once made redundant, older workers are more likely to drift into long-term unemployment than their younger counterparts. [...] These factors, combined with the need for many to keep working until they are 66 to access the safety net of the state pension, appear to be leading to a increase in the number of employment tribunal cases based on age discrimination – and it’s likely to get worse.”