Norfolk County Council rejects a survey’s claim of over-50s ageism

An accusation of ageism has been levelled at Norfolk County Council after it was revealed that over-50s accounted for nearly 61pc of redundancies within the authority.

The data, obtained as part of a national survey by the over-50s support agency Wise Owls, shows that out of 87 redundancies in the period September 2009 to August 2010, 47 were in the age group 50-64 and six were in the 65-plus category.

Wise Owls director Chris Walsh said their survey of county councils and London borough councils, obtained using the Freedom of Information Act, showed a picture of institutionalised ageism.

Essex County Council was top of the ageism league table with nearly 80pc of redundancies coming in the over-50s group, while elsewhere in the region, Suffolk's figure was 57pc and Cambridgeshire's 65pc.

However, while Mr Walsh warned of the prospect of a worrying return to the 1990s 'when councils more or less got rid of everyone over 50', Jonathan Dunning, Norfolk branch secretary for public service union Unison, said complaints of ageism from staff over 50 were, in fact, rare.

He said: 'Most local authorities have always tried to deal with redundancy on a voluntary basis and staff over 55 who pay into a pension will have the opportunity to have that released early.

'That makes the chance to go early more attractive for them than younger people.'

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However, Mr Walsh insisted that over-50s in the public sector were often being pushed into taking voluntary redundancy. And he said the impact on families was grave as figures for last year showed the percentage of over-50s finding re-employment had dropped to 16pc compared to 20pc in 2004-06.

Mr Walsh said there was also a serious impact on councils from losing experienced staff; in the 1990s many authorities had resorted to re-employing people as consultants at twice the cost.

The Wise Owls survey also highlighted councils' reluctance to employ people over 50; in Norfolk County Council, only 18pc of recruits in the past year were over-50.

Derrick Murphy, leader of Norfolk County Council, said: 'The suggestion that the council is more likely to make someone over the age of 50 redundant, than younger age groups, is simply not true. Over a third of our workforce are aged over 50.

'When voluntary redundancies are involved, the offer may well be more attractive to someone over the age of 50 – as they will be much closer to the age of 55 at which a pension entitlement can be claimed than someone younger. I'm sure this is a factor within these figures.'