200 years ago a working man like me wouldn’t be grafting as, most likely, I’d be dead. Today, those under the age of 40 are considered too young and inexperienced to be in a position of authority.
But while our high flying executives and politicians are at the peak of their powers and earning potential in their 60s, the rest of us are still expected to step aside by the time we reach 65.
To be honest, we have tangled ourselves in contradictions when it comes to dealing with age in the workplace. This is why the government’s scrapping of compulsory retirement was one of the sanest things to come out of Westminster in years, albeit one that people are still struggling to get their heads around.
Centuries ago, people needed to take their chances. Life was a lottery, “nasty, brutish and short,” as Hobbes famously said.
Despite his fame as a great King of England, Richard the Lionheart never made it to his 42nd birthday, and William the Conqueror was 38-years-old when he won the Battle of Hastings.
People didn’t retire as a matter of law, they simply became unable to contribute. If they were lucky, they were looked after. Eventually, retirement was enshrined in law but even as recently as the first half of the 20th century three score and ten were considered good innings.
Today, this simply isn’t true. To ignore the talent we have available to businesses and the national economy would be as ridiculous as telling William, Duke of Normandy in 1066, to wait until he had a bit more experience before he went off conquering countries.
Sorry for the long-winded explanation but the idea that age is a legitimate reason to discriminate against people in the workplace is illogical – at the same time, it’s immovable from people’s heads.
If someone is good at their job then why shouldn’t they keep it? That the old should leave to make way for the young is no more reasonable than other historical prejudices – namely sexism and racism, which are now accepted in law.
Former TUC boss, Brendan Barber was spot on when he said: “The increasing number of over-65s in work shows that older workers are highly valued and that the government is absolutely right to scrap the default retirement age.”
Take workers like my 71-year-old PA, Mario Rebellato who, before the law was changed, was forced out of the civil service six years ago at a time in his career when he was producing at the top of his game professionally. In his spare time he ran ultra-marathons. He still does.
Where’s the sense in making him redundant? The same goes for my driver, “young” Eric. At the age of 80 he handles my Bentley around the narrow streets of central London like it’s a Fiat 500. He knows more ways to get from Brixton to Mayfair than most black cab drivers have had hot dinners.
The simple fact is that in the 21st century, just like a thousand years ago, we need to use all the resources available to us. If we are serious about returning to economic growth, to do anything else would be stupid.
We have an aging population but luckily for us, and thanks to modern medicine, one that is in remarkably good health. To discriminate against someone based on the amount of wrinkles on their skin when they are in good physical and mental health is as arbitrary as not employing people based on their gender or sexual preference.
If anything, to use age as a sole reason not to hire someone is worse than plain discrimination since, by virtue of age, a worker is more likely to be an asset to a business.
Charlie Mullins is founder and CEO of Pimlico Plumbers.
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