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) defines a child as a person under the age of 18 years.
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 (external link) provides a framework to address the challenges of supporting and caring for Scotland’s growing older population into the next decade and beyond. This builds upon the earlier policy: All our futures: Planning for a Scotland with an Ageing Population (external link) that sets out the intention to ‘act to improve the health and quality of life of older people’.
- The Scottish Government is proposing a Rights of Children and Young People Bill which will make Scottish Ministers responsible in law for children´s rights in Scotland for the first time. This will support implementation of the principles of the Getting it right for every child (external link) approach.
- Valuing Young People (external link) is guidance for professionals working with young people on the key policies and principles to refer to when designing services. It is one of the policies signposted to from Walk the Talk (external link) which promotes youth friendly health 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.
A proposed ban on age discrimination
In June the Home Office published its response to the UK Government’s consultation and announced its intention to ban age discrimination in the provision of public and private services, within the Equality Act 2010, subject to Parliamentary approval, from 1 October 2012.
The Scottish Government has been consulted in this process on an ad-hoc basis over the last 2 years.
The consultation explored areas where different treatment of people of different ages could be allowed or where specific exceptions from the ban were necessary. Some respondents wanted to know how this would work in practice, but overall the proposal was welcomed agreeing that there should be no specific exceptions in health and social care.
Consequently, the Government has decided to proceed as proposed. This will mean that organisations, and individuals, working in health and social care including “commissioners” (those, such as doctors who commission services), and all providers (where they are delivering public services) can continue to treat people differently because of their age.
However, they will need to show, if challenged, that there is a good reason (“objective justification”) for that different treatment. This approach will contribute towards ensuring that high quality, dignified and compassionate care services are provided on the basis of need.
This reiterates the requirement to undertake thorough equality 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)
In anticipation of the ban, 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 forthcoming age equality legislation. Findings from this review are supported by the Scottish Government, acknowledging that the moral and philosophical issues raised are significant.
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.