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Discrimination Against The Elderly

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Published: Mon, 24 Apr 2017

This report will highlight the issue on discrimination against elderly people in countries such as Singapore, America and United Kingdom (UK). Similarly, all three countries face employment discrimination but there were slight improvements in UK. Situation of discrimination against elderly is considered to be the worse in America because they are also denied of opportunities to seek health care. The importance, impact of social discrimination and measures taken at the company and national level to combat this discrimination are also discussed.

Section 2- The issues and who are involved

Singapore is rapidly facing ageing population where the proportion of residents aged 65 and above contributes to 14% of the resident population in 1998 and this will increase to 27% in 2015. An increase in life expectancy has led to the increase in proportion of elderly people. Other reasons were due to the ageing of the baby boomers, decrease in infant and early childhood mortality rate and low birth rates.

In today’s society, our perception of elderly people is often that of dependency, slow and disregarded. Misconceptions arise about ageing, leading to stereotyping and social discrimination. A common stereotype states that most elderly people are ill. When elderly people are unsure of themselves, they are considered to be senile and they are also accused of being old when they forgot a sentence.

The older generation have worked hard and they deserve to be respected by the society. With more and more people becoming old, it is important to pay attention to these legal issues surrounding the older generation. It is necessary to confront such concerns now so that we can look forward in enjoying our old age in the future. Addressing the problem of discrimination in Singapore is therefore vital in further developing and building up our nation. By undertaking these suggestions, we can then hope towards a better future for Singapore, one free from discrimination. Therefore, it is necessary that companies and individuals change their mindset and be more supportive towards the older generation.

Discrimination of elderly people is prevalent in the workplace in Singapore. Age discrimination occurs when older worker is discriminated against by an employer because of their age. A recent survey by Kelly Services discovered that majority of the 1,500 respondents polled in Singapore, experienced some type of prejudice when applying for a job in the last five years and the main reason for discrimination, which contributed to 29 percent, was age. Older adults are often viewed negatively such as having high wage expectations because of their experiences, lacking new skills and unable to meet the physical demands of the job.

Majority of the older workers did not complete their secondary education due to limited educational opportunities. Hence, they have a lower skilled job. As firms seek higher productivity, with current jobs being automated and improvised, it results in multiple and higher skills requirements. This eventually leads to older workers, with low education and holding unskilled jobs, being retrenched.

Even if low skilled jobs are available, older workers still face competition from younger and cheaper foreign workers. Many companies are biased against older workers and still prefer to hire younger employees. Such discrimination fails to tap fully the older workers’ contributions.

In addition, high cost of hiring older workers and perception among employers that they are less productive and open to new ideas are some of the common reasons why many firms are less likely to hire them. As such, employers may encourage early retirement or layoff disproportionately older workers. This is usually seen in computer and entertainment industries. As a result, we often see older workers picking up empty cans or selling tissue papers. Other stereotypical old-age occupations that come into mind will be cleaners and servers at fast food restaurants.

Based on Singapore’s laws (with some exceptions), the government cannot take any legal action against employers who choose to discriminate. Individuals also cannot sue employers.

Employment discrimination is also similar in America where there are a large number of aging employees in the workplace (due to the baby boomer generation). Employers engage in age discrimination when they sack or refuse to hire older workers because of ageist stereotypes. However, they have the United States Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) which prohibits age discrimination. Employers are not allowed to discriminate when hiring and firing employees who are aged 40 or older.

United Kingdom (UK) also faces similar discrimination against the elderly in the workplace as Singapore and America. However, there were improvements these recent years. Employers are positive about retaining older workers as they are seen as a valuable resource. Older workers want to work beyond state pension age and various surveys also show that there is a keen attitude among them for flexible working and flexible pensions. The government also encourages older workers to continue working.

UK employment equality law is effective as it helps to combat prejudice in the workplace as it prohibits discrimination against people based on gender, race, religion and age etc. It is illegal to discriminate against an employee under the age of 65 due to age. In addition, employers who sack workers or deny them training opportunities as their colleagues will break the law. Based on UK’s Office for National Statistics, the number of older workers in UK employment rose by 8.8% from March 2007 to March 2008.

In Singapore, there is not much issue on discrimination against the elderly in terms of health care because we have a universal health care system where both government and private sectors will provide treatment to patients regardless of age.

Unlike Singapore, the elderly in both America and UK are discriminated against when seeking health care because health professionals refuse to meet the elderly needs. When a person reaches the age of 60, health services are based on a person’s age and some have been denied care as a result. Age discrimination is still practiced in all levels of health care but nothing has been done to curb this prejudice against older people. Older people feel like outcasts of society because care is offered to young people regularly.

Another example of discrimination against the elderly people was the incapability of making independent decisions such as living independently. People see this as a negative attitude which is often translated into their ageist actions. However, research has shown that older people value their independence. They want to make their own decisions and have access to information in order to make the best choices in life.

There seems to be a trend for the elderly to live on their own, away from their children. According to Brunk (1998) “it is a decision that is usually forced by a sudden decline in their health or mental abilities, or the realization that they can no longer get the kind of care they need at home or from family caregivers.” This results in family member putting the elderly in the care of caregivers in the elderly homes, thinking that they have provided them the best in terms of basic needs. By doing so, they have unnoticeably discriminated against them by having a perception that they are dependent and a burden.

Section 3- Why is it important for us to talk about it?

Age discrimination has a negative impact on both the economy and society. Discriminating age is harmful to companies because older people are usually full of experiences. By not hiring them, it will result in a big loss of expertise; deprive them of securing a job and not tapping fully on their contributions to the society.

The effect on the economy is also evident in older workers depleting life savings which were needed for retirement. Borrowing money from financial institutions and maxing out credit cards may be the only few solutions for some unemployed people to survive. Medical needs can go unmet and they have to seek help via subsidies to pay for their medication. Depression also rises when people are not being employed as they faced difficulties to make the ends meet.

However, In Singapore, the government has implemented Central Provident Fund (CPF) which gives many working Singaporeans a sense of security and confidence in their old age. CPF also provides them with a retirement income to meet their basic needs when they are old.

In countries such as UK and America, ageism will have an effect on health care providers’ professional training and service delivery. This, in turn, affects older patients’ treatment and health outcomes negatively.

Therefore, it is important to understand the importance of older people to society because the quality of life can be improved when they are engaged in the society. Age discrimination serves as a barrier to their participation in the community. Awareness of age discrimination is therefore necessary to overcoming it. As we are living longer and healthier lives, it is essential that we recognise the talents of older workers and giving opportunities to them if they want to carry on working. Older workers are valuable and they perform well in a learning environment which involves hands-on practices, usually those which require customer-sales relationships e.g. sales promoter.

The growing importance of services industry in Singapore will recruit more older workers as the nature of work will be more dependent on soft skills e.g. in service delivery. As a result, we should appreciate old age and understand that there is nothing wrong about growing old instead of identifying old age with imagery of despondency. There is a need to think on how we can care for the elderly and combat this social discrimination.

Section 4-Where can we start to fix the problem?

Discrimination against the elderly creates inequality in Singapore’s society because older workers are often associated with lower skilled jobs and lower income due to their low education background. Nevertheless, many firms still prefer to hire younger workers as money spent on them in terms on health care and training problems is minimal compared to older workers.

However, Singapore empathises on meritocracy where jobs should be given to employees who have the necessary skills and experiences. An article “Age bias: Firms’ mindset change is key” also states that “the focus should be on the actual job-related criteria. This way, older candidates are given the opportunity to work and contribute to the organisation.” Research led by Prof Albert Hermalin, University of Michigan, also revealed that older people in Singapore actually want to work but it will only be possible if there are positive perceptions about productivity of older workers.

Therefore, Singapore government has come up with various measures to help the older workers to remain employed. These measures include the extension of the retirement age to 62, reduction in the costs of employing older workers and various programmes to encourage the older workers to work and upgrade their skills.

To reduce the cost of employing older workers, the employer’s CPF contribution rate for older workers aged 55 and above has decreased and employers can cut wages of workers aged above 60 by up to 10%. This is to encourage employers to hire older workers.

Employers have also moved away from the seniority wage system and turned to a performance-based wage system. An SHRI (2007) survey revealed that only 14% of Singapore employers use a seniority wage system, while 61% are offering a performance-based wage system. By using a seniority wage system, wages will increase with age, resulting in many firms not willing to hire the older workers because of high costs. The change from the seniority wage system to a performance-based wage system will enable older workers to be hired.

In the workplace, employers are encouraged to employ older workers and to job redesign. An example will be NTUC FairPrice where they hired older workers and assisted them in job upgrading and career transitions. Older workers can also enrol themselves in training programs to upgrade their skills and this ensures their employability. This is especially so in an increasingly knowledge based Economy. For older workers, learning should not only be seen as an advantage for employment but also for self enrichment and fulfilment. Furthermore, the raising of the retirement age to 62 also enables older workers to secure jobs.

Employers have to be positive towards employing older workers and perhaps make some adjustments e.g. modification of work processes to accommodate older workers. For example, in McDonalds, icons of hamburgers and fries are printed on the cash registers to help older workers key in the right orders. However, their success still depends heavily on employers because it is important that they change their attitudes so that they do not employ employees on the grounds on age.

Recently, a “tripartite” committee, which consists of Singapore National Employers’ Federation, National Trades Union Congress and the Ministry of Manpower, was set up. They have implemented a set of guidelines on non- discriminatory job advertisements to discourage employers from adopting discriminatory criteria i.e. age, race or religion when recruiting employees. One of the guidelines is that age should not be a requirement for employment. Public and private sector employers have to pledge to comply with the non-discriminatory practices. The implementation of the guidelines was successful as there was a significant drop in the percentage of newspaper advertisements stipulating discriminatory criteria from 30% in February to less than 1% in April this year.

In countries like America and UK, there should be improvements in the health system so that older people can have proper care and health care equality. Health care professionals should provide treatment for every patients including older people as they have a duty to treat the patients regardless of age. Organisations like Age Concern and Help the Aged were also established to give advice on this issue. The government is currently reviewing ageism within the health care sector and in the progress of introducing new laws.

In conclusion, government policies and laws which were implemented can have an impact in combating discrimination against the elderly people. Most importantly, it is still the perception of one’s mind that leads to positive/negative stereotypes about the elderly people. As quoted by Ralph B. Perry,

‘Age should not have its face lifted, but it should rather teach the world to admire

wrinkles as the etchings of experience and the firm line of character.’


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