Today is UK Older Persons Day. Organisations concerned with people of mature years, are pushing for a better deal. Coincidentally, events are already on the move. JOHN AVISON reports.

LABOUR’S plans to increase the retirement age bumped headlong into a legal judgement last week that upheld the right of UK employers to force staff to go at 65.

Age Concern and Help the Aged, twin champions of elderly folk’s rights, lost a High Court battle which would have heralded the removal of mandatory retirement altogether, giving people the right, if they wished and were able, to work for as long as they wanted.

On this judgement hung at least 300 ‘unfair dismissal’ appeals from people who have been sacked against their wishes because they have reached 65 or 60.

The bulk of British law operates by precedent, one decision resting on another. This means that in all likelihood these cases and any future arguments are now shelved.

The irony of this is that the Government has long term plans to increase the mandatory retirement age.

By 2020 they want it to be 65 for both sexes. By 2026 they want to push this to 66, by 2036 to 67 and by 2046 to 68.

Age Concern and Help The Aged say this is not fast enough. They go further and say that any default retirement age (DRA) is an anachronism in the UK’s changing demographic.

There are now more UK people aged over 65 than there are under 16. These people are healthier and have a greater life expectancy.

Shirley Farrar, 72, works part-time in a Huddersfield town centre card shop. She has been a shop assistant since leaving school.

“I work because I love it and because it helps pay for my holidays,” she said. She’s a big fan of Turkey and Egypt.

Her employers are happy to utilise her lifetime of counter skills and Shirley is delighted to deal with a constant stream of customers. Retirement doesn’t come into the picture.

The DIY warehouse chain B&Q has an honourable history of employing older people.

Winston Marshall, 68, has nothing but praise for the company. For three years he’s been a customer adviser in the flooring department at the Leeds Road warehouse.

“I worked for 40 years at (Halifax-based) Crosslee Tumble Dryers but I had to go aged 65,” he said.

“Being employed at B&Q was a new lease of life. I was sent on courses to brush up my knowledge. Many of the people who come into the store are not just customers, they’re personal friends. They bring in pictures of their home improvements to show you.

“I want to work as long as I can. You are as young as you feel – and I feel about 40.”

Labour is under pressure to speed up the re-alignment of the DRA. They could do this by making changes under the proposed Single Equality Act making its way through Parliament at the moment.

There is no political reason why, in the event of a Tory election win by next June, this process should be hindered.

The Single Equality Act combines all UK anti-discrimination legislation since 1975 and includes sections that would toughen up the present laws that make it illegal to discriminate against people because of their age.

As the average age of the population rises, it becomes more and more important that the outdated hurdle of a fixed retirement age should disappear altogether, according to Help the Aged’s thinking.

While politicians hesitate, the prospects for adequate funding of care for the elderly look bleaker each year.

Andrew Harrop, of Age Concern and Help the Aged, said: “The High Court ruling is a blow for huge numbers of older people who need to work to secure a decent retirement in the teeth of a harsh recession and the drop in returns on savings and investments.

“However, in his ruling the judge also revealed that the only reason he has allowed the law to stand is because ministers have already caved in to our pressure for a review of the law.

“This judgement has made it crystal clear that this unfair legislation is past its sell by date.

“Following the ruling, we are now challenging MPs to demonstrate their support for older workers by overturning the outdated legislation as soon as possible.

“The first opportunity to do it is to amend the (Single) Equality Bill.”

Jobs always go in times of recession. And many firms think people near to or at retirement age are easy meat and fair game for dismissal, either by redundancy or forced retirement.

Never mind their experience, tolerance, politeness and a host of other accumulated qualities – they cost too much. They get ill more often. They don’t learn new things as fast.

This is ageism, by the way, and it is already against European law – that is, law set in Strasbourg and applying to all EU countries.

Log on to thepensionservice.gov.uk/forecast and enter your date of birth or www.direct.gov.uk and follow the pensions links to find out what your default retirement age (DRA) will be under present rules.