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Volume 477: debated on Thursday 12 June 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills if he will take steps to establish a strategy to tackle age discrimination and promote age equality in the provision of goods and services (a) by the Department and (b) within the sectors for which he has policy responsibility; and if he will make a statement. (210458)

The Government are committed to ensuring equal opportunities for all learners, and that learning serves the needs of the whole community, including older people both within and outside the work force. Our strategy for World Class Skills and our reforms of wider adult learning are designed to ensure that everyone, whatever their age or background, has the opportunity to improve their skills, prospects and quality of life. We will continue to work closely with our ministerial colleagues to respond to the consultation on the Equality Bill—“A Framework for Fairness”—to ensure that everyone, in every community, can lead healthy and fulfilling lives by participating fully in work, education and society as a whole.

Protection from discrimination on the grounds of age was introduced in the area of employment and vocational training through the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006. The Regulations mean that further education and training providers are not allowed to set age limits for access to training unless they can show objective justification why there is a real need to apply such limits. The Government have decided that all courses at Further Education and Higher Education institutions are covered by the age regulations, whether they are specifically vocational or more general in nature. This ensures that there is a unified and consistent approach to age-related practices and policies in relation to all such provision.

I must stress that the Regulations do not bar providers from offering age-related fee discounts. Many colleges and other providers have longstanding, formal, informal and discretionary arrangements based on age when deciding eligibility for fee concessions. These are entirely at the discretion and cost of individual providers. I refer the hon. Member to the written statement by my hon. Friend the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, which said:

“Guidance on the vocational training aspects of the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations is available on the DTI website. It is aimed at, amongst others, providers of further and adult education. The guidance makes it clear that age related practices, such as age related fee concessions, may be objectively justified where they are a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. It is for providers to produce evidence of such objective justification if called upon to do so, or to take their own legal advice if necessary. Guidance on objective justification is also available on page 30 of the ACAS guidance on the Age Regulations.” [Official Report, 16 May 2007, col. 35WS.]