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Legislation pretends to ban ageism

Hold up!

See that little date above?

This post was published years ago.

My opinions have changed over time: I think it's quite fun to keep old posts online so that you can see how that has happened. The downside is that there are posts on this site that express views that I now find offensive, or use language in ways I'd never dream of using it today.

I don't believe in airbrushing history, but I do believe that it's important to acknowledge the obvious: some of what I've written in the past has been crap. Some of it was offensive. Some of it was offensively bad. And there's may be some brass among the muck (you can make up your own mind on that).

Some of what I've presented as my own views has been me—wittingly or unwittingly—posturing without having considered all the facts. In a few years, I'll probably think the same about what I'm writing today, and I'm fine with that. Things change. People grow. Society moves forward.

The internet moves on too, which means there might be broken links or embedded content that fails to load. If you're unlucky, that might mean that this post makes no sense at all.

So please consider yourself duly warned: this post is an historical artefact. It's not an exposition of my current views nor a piece of 'content' than necessarily 'works'.

You may now read on... and in most cases, the post you're about to read is considerably shorter than this warning box, so brace for disappointment.

Today is one of those wonderful days where an unfortunate confluence of events means that we can see through the government’s spin and political correctness, and gawp at the real decisions being taken in Whitehall.

Today, new legislation comes into force, spun as ‘banning ageism‘:

They make it unlawful to discriminate against workers under the age of 65 on the grounds of age.

The rules will impact on recruitment, training, promotion, redundancy, retirement, pay and pension provision.

Ministers have been popping up here, there, and everywhere over the last week emphasising that not only does this rule out discrimination against older people, it also protects the young from being discriminated against in favour of the old. Which is all fine and dandy, but sadly untrue.

Giving the lie to the spin is another new piece of legislation coming into force today: An increase in the minimum wage. Despite ageism now being illegal, this continues to have three tiers. 16 and 17 year olds receive a minimum of £3.30 per hour, 18 to 21 year olds receive a minimum £4.85, whilst over 21s get £5.35.

Ageism is, apparently, outlawed, but if I were to go and get a proper job today, I could be paid 50p an hour less than somebody less than six-months my senior. From where I’m standing, that smells a lot like ageism.

So it’s fairly clear that the government’s actual target here is the older generation. By preventing employers from retiring people at sixty based on age alone, perhaps the government think that this will become the norm, before they force it to be so by raising the official retirement age. But it’s a bit of a stretch even for Nu Labour to pretend to be discouraging ageism on the same day as retaining an increasing a three-tier minimum wage.

But thank you, Tony, for showing us how to ban ageism whilst simultaneously actively promoting it. I don’t think anyone else could.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics.

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Comments and responses

Comment from Steve

    11.30, 04/05/2007

Ageism is just as bad as racism and sexism, but they didn’t just ban racism and sexism in the work place, they banned them in every place, ageism should also be banned in every place! The ban on ageism in the work place is a con! it has nothing to do with the fight against ageism or the fight for equality, and everything to do with making more revenue out of older workers, and restricting younger workers from ever having any hope of retiring… Please sign my petition to ban ageism in every place, the petition can be found at, http://petitions:pm.gov.uk/ageism/

Comment from Steve

    11.38, 04/05/2007

Sorry!… The link I gave you for the petition to ban ageism in every place, not just the work place, was wrong, here is the correct adress… http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/ageism/

Comment from sjhoward (author of the post)

    12.29, 04/05/2007

It’s a good plan, but I spot a flaw – The petition says

Ageism is just as bad as racism or sexism or any other ism

Darwinism? Heroism? Mechanism? Magentism?

Comment from Steve

    13.08, 04/05/2007

Yes but it should be unlawful to discriminate against people of any adult age in every area of life, the rules should impact on everything! Not just revenue gaining employment and work matters!… Try to find a council house when your under 30 and you’ll see what I mean, almost all the properties are restricted to applicants who are over 30, 40 and often 60, that’s ageism against young homeless people who are between 16 and 30… The only people who should be restricted by age, are children, in order to protect them, other than that ageism should be banned in all areas of life!

Comment from sjhoward (author of the post)

    23.27, 04/05/2007

I do have a lot of sympathy for what you’re saying, but sometimes age discrimination is sensible – in terms of medical treatment, for example. But I don’t really understand why council houses should be restricted by age, as you say – that does seem discriminatory.

Comment from Steve

    10.38, 05/05/2007

I’m sorry sjhoward, I don’t agree, I think selecting who to treat according to age is amoral, and you have just highlighted another issue on which this country practices ageism on a daily basis… The new smoking laws are an example of ageism that is related to medical favouritism, they are putting the age limit for smokers up to 18, allegedly to protect the health of young adults. But smoking is just as dangerous to all adults, not just the ones between 16 and 18, and the government know that fact! But they want to hold on to as much of the revenue from smoking as they can, otherwise they would ban smoking outright. If any one age group is more vulnerable to smoke than another, it’s not healthy young 16 to 18 year olds, it’s the frail, the sick and the elderly! The new smoking law is ageism to protect the health of the young whilst failing to protect the health of the middle aged, the ill and the elderly.

Comment from sjhoward (author of the post)

    10.50, 05/05/2007

Choosing who to treat based on age is amoral?

So to perform major open heart surgery on a 102-year-old who almost certainly would not survive is as moral as doing it on a fit 30-year-old?

And we should be screening everyone for breast cancer, regardless of age, instead of targeting those at most risk?

And presumably, there should be no NHS care homes for the elderly?

We should treat prostate cancer, which can take many, many years to develop, as aggressively in a 75-year-old who will never suffer with it (something else will kill them first) as in a 20-year-old who might die from it?

And we should treat ovarian cancer the same in an 25-year-old as in an 80-year-old – by removing the womb, rather than working damn hard to protect it in case she chooses to bear children?

Joint replacements have a maximum life of around 20 years. Replacing a joint replacement is often far more complicated and dangerous than inserting it in the first place – so shouldn’t we be naturally more cautious about putting one into a forty-year-old than into a seventy-year-old?

And should incontinence, common in the elderly, be investigated as rigorously as incontinence in the young man, where it is much more likely to be pathological?

Some drugs work better in the elderly, and some drugs work better in the young thanks to their different metabolisms. Should we give the same drug to all, despite it being less effective in one group?

I simply don’t understand how the current practice relating to any of the above is amoral. It’s just sensible, tailored to the individual patient rather than merely indiscriminate, and based on the best available evidence.

Clearly, there will be those who are outstanding within their age-group – a very fit seventy-year-old versus a forty-year-old at death’s door – and I’m not suggesting that age should be the sole factor taken into consideration, but it’s a damn good starting point for most guidelines.

As for your point on smoking, I largely agree. The cut-off for drinking alcohol is 18, and that doesn’t seem to have stopped young people drinking and it becoming a societal ill, so I see no reason whatsoever why lowering the age at which one can buy cigarettes will help. I think the legislation has more to do with a government wanting to appear to treat a problem without having to spend much money than it does medical favouritism, though.

Comment from Steve

    13.46, 05/05/2007

A life is a life until it’s ended & if I was 30 I wouldn’t dream of asking a 102 year old to give up their life to save mine, obviously you would. But having said that, if I was 102, I would gladly give up my life to save a 30 year old, but that should not be compulsory! to make it compulsory to favour the lives of the young is ageism! No excuses, just plain ageism… And as for drugs and treatments that work better on one age group rather than another, it’s not ageism to treat and prescribe people according to what works best for their age group, that is prescribing medication on what works best for the individual based on what their body can and can’t take, it’s ageism when a decision is made solely on favouring age without any other reason, other than ageism… And going back to the legal age for smoking, if we apply your ideas to the new smoking laws, you agree with what I’m saying, because inhaling smoke is more dangerous in the elderly than it is in the young, therefore we should have banned the elderly from smoking first.

Comment from sjhoward (author of the post)

    14.06, 05/05/2007

“A life is a life until it’s ended & if I was 30 I wouldn’t dream of asking a 102 year old to give up their life to save mine, obviously you would.”

Goodness, no! I’m not suggesting that treatment in general should be given preferentially to anyone. I agree completely that “it’s ageism when a decision is made solely on favouring age without any other reason”, and I’m certainly not suggesting that this should be the case. I’m agreeing that “it’s not ageism to treat and prescribe people according to what works best for their age group, that is prescribing medication on what works best for the individual based on what their body can and can’t take”.

In fact, I’m completely agreeing with you – I’m merely pointing out that it is sometimes difficult to know where to draw the line when legislating about ageism. My point is that “prescribing medication on what works best for the individual based on what their body can and can’t take” will inevitably mean that older people get medications that younger people don’t get, and vice versa, because evidence about the efficacy of drugs will be determined by trial populations – including populations of different age groups – as it is impossible to say what will work in one individual and what won’t in another.

If 80% of elderly people die after being given drug X, and only 0.1% of younger people, you’re not going to give it to the elderly person, because you simply won’t know if they’re in the 80% or not until it’s too late. They may be in the 20%, and so the drug may be beneficial to the individual, but the risk is far too high. So effectively you are discriminating on age alone I guess, but with excellent clinical evidence and reasoning behind you.

It’s a balance of probabilities, so guidelines based on evidence will say, for example, that incontinence in young people should be investigated more rigorously than incontinence in older people as the balance of probabilities says it’s more likely to be serious. Equally, you’re more likely to give a hip replacement to an 80-year-old with comparatively minor difficulties to a 40-year-old, because the risk-benefit ratio would be completely different.

Pure ageism in medicine is, I agree, wrong. But my point is that there can be apparent ageism – ie more older people getting a particular treatment – because of the nature of the beast. It is therefore nonsense to say that doctors can’t discriminate on age – because sometimes it’s clinically relevant and necessary – though both age groups get an identical standard of treatment.

As for your assertion that “inhaling smoke is more dangerous in the elderly than it is in the young” – I’m certainly not sure that there’s been any evidence of that. A sixteen-year-old who starts smoking is at an infinitely higher risk of lung cancer than a seventy-year-old that starts smoking, because of the time over which they will smoke. I think that’s what the legislation is getting at (though I totally agree that it’s not terribly successful, and is a very blunt instrument).

Trackback from elsewhere on the site

26th June 2008.

This post has been referenced by another on this site:
sjhoward.co.uk » Of by-elections and discrimination

Trackback from elsewhere on the site

26th June 2008.

This post has been referenced by another on this site:
sjhoward.co.uk » Of by-elections and discrimination

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