The UK's poor productivity may be due to its ageism

The UK’s poor productivity may be due to its ageist attitudes

One of the conundrums facing economists today is the productivity gap between the UK and other advanced economies. “It takes a German worker four days to produce what we make in five,” the chancellor of the exchequer Phillip Hammond said in his 2016 Autumn Statement.

While Bank of England (BoE) policymakers have been scratching their heads trying to work out why UK workers can’t quite match their German and French counterparts for output, part of the answer might lie in a report produced by the Women and Equalities Committee, published in July.

Ageism is a significant problem within British society and is running riot in UK workplaces, the report states. As a result, the skills, talents and experiences of around one million over 50s are being squandered while businesses up and down the country opt for “energetic", "enthusiastic" and "dynamic" younger staff, with little experience and even fewer skills.

This is despite report after report demonstrating that an older employee's skills and experience contributes positively to a team's overall productivity and that people aged 50 plus will stay, on average, for five years with a firm before moving on. Not only do older workers boost a business’s bottom line, they improve the country’s prosperity by extension too.

Yet prejudice, unconscious bias and casual ageism is rampant in recruitment practice and in the workplace, the report said. Few employees are bothering to take employers to court for breaches to age discrimination legislation, because these cases are notoriously difficult to prove.

But with an ageing population, a rising state pension age and forecasts showing that by the mid 2030s, the under 50s will be significantly outnumbered by the over 50s, the government will need to be more proactive in ensuring that employers are not routinely breaching the Equality Act 2010.

More immediately, there’s the fall in the numbers of migrants coming to the UK following the EU referendum to contend with, and the ensuing demand for experienced and skilled workers. So if the government and BoE policymakers are serious about solving the UK’s productivity gap, they may wish to start by tackling society’s ageist attitudes first.