Duncan Lewis

Legal Aid

Lawyers London

Age discrimination could become a major problem for the flagship scheme Youth Contract which is aimed at 18 – 24 years old

Date: (17 May 2012)    |    

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Government’s flagship scheme to get young people into work, known as the "Youth Contract" programme which is directed towards the age group of 18-24 who are finding it difficult to get a hold on the employment ladder.
The new scheme would give incentives to employers to employ younger workers by the Government (i.e. the taxpayer) making payments of £2,275 for each unemployed 18-24 year old taken on for six months.
The difficulty with such a scheme seems to be, of balancing the interests of the entire workforce when only a small percentage was being positively advantaged.
The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 and the Equality Act 2010 prohibit direct or indirect age discrimination. The after effects of the scrapping of default retirement age of 65 are still to be fully appreciated.
Now employers were faced with a further confusion at the opposite end of the age scale.

The Government’s new scheme is seen as discriminatory since it would not benefit workers who are 25 years old or more to draw any advantage from the employment advantages of the incentive being offered.
Those who would be affected may sue the Government, and even those employers who take advantage of the scheme. Even the government’s current guidance has admitted of facing such legal challenges advising the employers to take separate advice on the issue hardly a vote of confidence.
It seems however that the Government would have reasonable chances of defending any claims by relying on Article 6 of the Equal Treatment Directive (2000/78./EC) which states differences of treatment on grounds of age shall not constitute discrimination if they could be justified by a legitimate aim including a legitimate employment policy labour market and vocational training objectives, and if the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary”.
The Government would seek to rely on the above Directive and plead justification. The words “appropriate and necessary” would become a point for legal argument on both sides.
Why is it more appropriate to advantage younger workers over older workers? And why are 25 year olds or indeed any other age groups excluded? These are some of the issues that will doubtless be debated.
Employers in the private sector may well face allegations of age discrimination if this scheme is implemented.
Frustrated 25 year olds will feel unfairly excluded, and older workers who have been unemployed for years will feel their situation has been ignored. One line of attack will be the argument that the scheme is fundamentally and inter generationally unfair.