More than half of people aged 50+ experience discrimination based on age

Society has dealt with many prejudices in recent years – some more successfully than others.

We have faced down chauvinism, sexism, racism and many variations on those themes and whilst there is still some way to go, one ‘ism’ remains and it is just as offensive – ageism.

Ageism is everywhere, quite simply the most widespread form of discrimination in the UK, and at last, the spotlight is falling upon it in the hope that it too can be stamped out.

A new campaign has been launched by an organisation called “Age Without Limits” and not before time, as it is estimated that more than half of people aged over 50 have experienced age discrimination in the last year.

That should come as no surprise when you consider that 50 per cent of the population believe that the UK is ageist and a third admit to holding deep-seated ageist beliefs that start early with children as young as three developing ageist stereotypes.

Furthermore,  it is firmly rooted in every aspect of society – in employment, one in five employers believe that age discrimination occurs in the workplace. We even praise employers like B&Q and Waitrose for having age-positive employment policies as if their attitude toward their employees is in need of singling out. It shouldn’t be.

Adverts, despite the power of the ‘grey’ pound, are targeted at everyone by the older generation and only one in 20 television adverts feature people aged 70 or over.

At Torbay Communities, we have spent years trying to change attitudes to ageing putting the older generation at the forefront of much of our work, particularly through the seven-year Ageing Well programme.

We have supported and encouraged the introduction of the World Health Organisation’s Age Friendly status for Torbay,  which aims to change the status quo when it comes to older people but it also means tackling prejudice at every level.

Here in the Bay, we already have a higher-than-average number of people aged 50 and over and that number is set to rise, topping 50% of the population in the not-too-distant future. That makes it all the more important that we tackle the insidious issue of ageism that influences negative attitudes and is reinforced in our everyday language.

How many times have you heard a so-called compliment such as ‘you are looking good’ come crashing down by the addition of the words ‘for your age.?’ Or just as bad, ‘you don’t look your age.’

Ageism is so omnipresent that it is often adopted by the very people who should be fighting it with phrases like ‘I am too old for that’ or ‘not at my age’ which ripples through to changes in self-perception altering thinking and behaviour.

For example, do we really get ‘stuck in our ways’ as we get older? Are we really too old to take on a new exercise regime? Is it too late to learn a new language or take up studies?

The answer to all of the above is a resounding NO. But it is down to us all to tackle the perceptions as they happen, just as we have enforced zero tolerance to sexism and racism in most parts of society.

And that means challenging ageist tropes as they are uttered and I have borrowed a few responses from the Age Without Limits organisation to use when faced with them:

  • “That’s not funny to me.”
  • “That sounds ageist.”
  • “Was age relevant to the story?”
  • “I’m sorry, could you explain that to me?”
  • “That comment makes me feel uncomfortable/worthless/invisible/irrelevant.”
  • “I wonder if you’ve considered the impact of your words?”
  • “You might not realise it but…”
  • “I don’t think you can make generalisations like that based on someone’s age.”
  • “People can be like that at any age.”


And finally, can we please redesign or, even better, dispense with the dreadful road sign that appears near old people’s homes (let’s change that name too), which features two bent-over, walking stick-wielding people which is stereotypical, insulting, offensive and degrading.