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Age Discrimination

Volume 451: debated on Wednesday 1 November 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills if his Department will (a) carry out an age audit of its staff to establish an age profile of its workforce, (b) negotiate an age management policy with trade unions and employees to eliminate age discrimination and retain older workers, (c) identify and support training needs and offer older staff flexible working to downshift towards retirement and (d) extend to over-fifties the right to request to work flexibly and the right to training with paid time off; and if he will make a statement. (96492)

The Department believes that everyone should have an equal opportunity to meet their aspirations, realise their full potential and improve their life chances. To that end, we regularly equality monitor our HR policies and processes, and have a clear understanding of the impact of those polices/ processes on different age groups within the Department, this includes access to development. We also take action if the monitoring shows any adverse impact on groups of staff.

When detailed guidance was produced by ACAS on implementing the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 a project team was set up to consider and review the implications of the regulations on our existing HR policies and procedures. This found that most of our policies and procedures were age compliant. The exception was our age retirement arrangements, and we have now negotiated an agreement with our trade union side so that from the 1 October 2006 here is no mandatory retirement age and people can choose when they retire provided they continue to meet the normal fitness and effectiveness standards that apply to all staff.

My Department, through its Equality and Diversity Deliver/Plan, is committed to supporting a range of flexible working patterns, including part-time working, job sharing and home-working. Any member of staff can negotiate a change in working pattern in addition to standard flexitime arrangements. In addition, people at age 60 can apply to take their pension and continue in employment either by reducing their hours of work or by downgrading without any financial detriment.

Finally, all members of staff are encouraged to develop the blend of skills and experience that will enable them to be effective in their current post and to progress, if that is what they want to do. In April 2006 we launched an initiative under the Professional Skills for Government framework so that everyone in the Department can identify and develop the blend of skills and experience they need to be able to design and deliver customer-focused policies for the 21st century.