Family of different generations


Age is a broad equality area and has implications for all people.

The NHS Health Scotland report Dimensions of Diversity states:

‘Age is continuous between birth and death. There are, however, many ways in which society demarcates population groups by age. These include, for example, different stages of education, varying ages at which ‘adult’ activities are legally permitted and the state retirement age. Age is relative: 50 may be old in a population with low life expectancy. The experience of particular social roles or life stages can vary with age – for example, becoming a parent as a teenager or in one’s 40s. Cultural context also affects how age is perceived and the expectations of roles and treatment appropriate at different ages.’

The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 (external link) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child define a child as a person under the age of 18 years.  

Scottish Government Evidence Reviews

The Scottish Government have published a series of Equality Evidence Reviews, to inform the development of the public sectors equality outcomes. The reviews explore available evidence about the scale and severity of issues faced by people with protected characteristics. 

View the review covering Age (external link).

Age equality

Age equality is not just about eliminating discrimination: it means delivering equitable outcomes for people with different needs at different stages in life.

A 2007 Help the Aged report by Bytheway et al defines age equality as: ‘ensuring that all individuals (irrespective of their age) have the opportunity to live in the way they choose, according to their values; that their different needs, situations and goals are recognised and respected; and that they are treated equally with fairness, dignity and respect’.

Ageism ’means prejudging or making assumptions about people on the basis of their age’ a set of negative beliefs, such as stereotypes, that lead to age discrimination (Bytheway, 2007) .

According to Age Scotland, age discrimination is the less favourable treatment of one person relative to another because of their age. Age discrimination is well understood to be the most common form of discrimination in the UK. Much of the inequality, prejudice and discrimination experienced by older people stems from pervasive negative stereotypes and attitudes held about ageing.


The current policy context sets out a range of actions and behaviours to improve patient care, for all age groups:

The Christie Commission Report (external link) is a key driver for policy and budget allocation, since it highlights developments on inequalities and the need for preventative spend.

The NHS Healthcare Quality Strategy (external link) commits to ensuring health services are responsive to everyone who needs them. It is framed around 3 Quality Ambitions: Safe, Effective and Person Centred Care.

Equally Well, the report of the Ministerial Task Force on Health Inequalities (external link) includes 12 recommendations which are specific to vulnerable groups and access to services.  In addition, there are several policies addressing the needs of specific age groups, for example: 

  • Reshaping care for older people: a programme for change 2011-2021 provides a framework to address the challenges of supporting and caring for Scotland’s growing older population into the next decade and beyond.
  • ScotPHN (Scottish Public Health Network) produced a policy landscape review which maps out the key policies and strategies affecting the health of older people in Scotland.
  • The Scottish Government introduced the Children and Young People Bill to the Parliament on the 18 April which aims to ensure that children’s rights properly influence the design and delivery of policies and services. This will also support implementation of the principles of the Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) approach.
  • Valuing Young People is a guidance for professionals working with young people on the key policies and principles to refer to when designing services.


The Equality Act 2010 came into force in October 2010 and provides a legal framework to protect the rights of individuals and advance equality of opportunity for all. There are nine ‘protected characteristics’ under the Act, one of which is Age.

The new public sector equality duty in the Act came into force in April 2011. The duty places an obligation on public authorities to take action to eradicate discrimination, proactively promote equality of opportunity, and to foster good relations across relevant protected characteristics. This duty applies to people of all ages.

Ban on age discrimination

On 1st October 2012, new provisions in the Equality Act 2010 came into force, extending the ban on age discrimination to cover services, public functions and private clubs and associations. Direct and indirect age discrimination, harassment and victimisation will be unlawful when providing services and when carrying out public functions. It is irrelevant whether a service is provided by the private, public or voluntary sector, and whether it’s for payment or free of charge.

The new ban means that in most cases service providers will not be able to operate upper and lower age limits. The ban on age discrimination in services and public functions does not apply to those under 18 years of age.

Unlike the other protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, direct discrimination because of age can be justified if it is objectively justifiable that is, ‘a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.’ This recognises that some age-differentiated treatment is socially acceptable. However, it is unclear how this legal test will be applied by the Courts.

There is no express exception for health and social care. This means that organisations responsible for planning, commissioning or delivering health or social care services can only differentiate in the treatment of service users in different age groups if this can be objectively justified.  However, many age-based services currently provided in these sectors will be able to satisfy this legal test: for example, winter flu injections for over 65s. Go to EHRC pages for further details on new law to ban age discrimination in services (external link), public functions and associations. This reiterates the requirement to undertake thorough Health Inequalities Impact Assessment across all policies and functions.

The Home Office has published quick-start guidance to support the introduction of the ban on age discrimination (external link).

The Department of Health in England set up a review to look at age discrimination issues in the health and social care sectors (external link) and to help service providers prepare for the age equality legislation. Findings from this review are supported by the Scottish Government, acknowledging that the moral and philosophical issues raised are significant.

Human rights

The Human Rights Act 2010 came into force in October 2000, bringing most of the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (external link) states that children have rights to health and the highest quality health care available. Data protection, confidentiality and anonymity have the potential to clash with the rights of the child to their own privacy. These rights are summarised on the Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People website (external link).

Older people and human rights

Age Concern’s 2009 report, Older People and Human Rights (external link) sets out where human rights have been breached and case outcomes where known.

The Protection of Vulnerable groups (Scotland) Act 2007 (external link) sets out the legislation compelling governments after the Soham murder case 2002 to establish mechanisms to enhance protection of vulnerable people. This includes older adults and young people from abuse and neglect.

Scottish Ministers have made a commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (external link) and are taking forward a range of actions to make sure children’s rights are realised across Scotland.

View the References page for a list of additional sources not hyperlinked within this page.

Updated 24 July 2014

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