By Jonathan Isaby
Two Tory MPs sought an update on the Government's plans to bring forward proposals to prevent unfair dismissal on grounds of age, to which Work and Pensions Secrteary Iain Duncan Smith replied:
"We are moving in that direction. Our changes will abolish the default retirement age, and we will make sure that people can no longer be kicked out of work because they have reached a certain age. By getting rid of that, we will improve the economy and help older people find work for a longer period, which is beneficial to the economy and beneficial for those people."
Supplementary exchanges then followed:
Robert Halfon (Harlow): In the recession redundancies have been higher among the over-50s than any other age group, including in Harlow. Many people, like my constituent, Kevin Forbes, who applied for more than 4,500 jobs, are worried that employment law is biased against older people. What are the Government doing, apart from what my right hon. Friend has just described, to make work fairer for the over-50s?
Iain Duncan Smith: The reality for companies and for those who are seeking work is that, because of the need for employment over the next few years, we will need more and more of the skills that are present in the age group to which my hon. Friend refers. Therefore, companies have to reach the sensible solution, which is that people who have those skills and ways of doing their jobs can stay in work much longer. The Work programme will be set up so that they can be helped back into work if they become unemployed. My concern is that companies should recognise that older workers have huge value, well beyond the cost of paying their wages.
Michael Ellis (Northampton North): Constituents in Northampton have raised with me the fact that they have been forced to retire because of their age before they were ready to do so. As I know my right hon. Friend accepts, older people offer a wealth of experience and skill. What progress have the Government made on the consultation on the default retirement age?
Iain Duncan Smith: The consultation has gone very well. We are sifting through the responses. There have been more responses than we anticipated. The vast majority have been positive, although there are some, in some areas of business, that were not as positive as we had hoped. We will publish those results and press on. I can guarantee to my hon. Friend and the rest of the House that we will press on with the issue.
Earlier in the session, Employment Minister Chris Grayling said that the new enterprise allowance would expand to become a nationwide scheme from next autumn, being launched initially on Merseyside before being rolled out nationally.
But Tory backbencher Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) had a concern about the scheme:
"I welcome the fact that the enterprise allowance scheme, which had such a positive effect in the 1980s, is being reinstated. However, I have a concern about the eligibility criteria: one has to have been unemployed for six months or more to be eligible. The National Audit Office noted in the 1980s that the longer someone spent on unemployment benefit before going into self-employment, the less successful that tended to be. Given that, will the Minister consider reducing that time and allowing people who have been unemployed for less than six months to go on to the scheme?"
Chris Grayling replied thus:
"I would very much like to improve the support that we provide, but obviously we have to do that in the context of the finances that we have inherited from the Opposition. The big difference that the new scheme will make is that it will also take advantage of the expertise of existing business people. I hope that my hon. Friend, who has a strong track record in business, will look to become a mentor for one of the new business people. That is an important difference from the previous scheme; the new scheme offers both financial and practical support, and not just financial support."