Ageism and the Consumer
"Ageism" refers to discrimination related to age. Usually ageism relates to older members of society, those aged 50 years or older, but unlike other forms of discrimination ageism frequently goes unnoticed in the United Kingdom. Ageism is harmful to older citizens as it makes assumptions about their abilities, their circumstances and their preferences without taking into account that each of them is an individual and due respect.
Older individuals frequently encounter ageism as consumers, though the ways in which this discrimination manifests itself may not even be noticed by younger consumers. Insurance, credit offers and advertising can all discriminate against older people, though there are ways to fight these practices.
Insurance and AgeismMotor insurance, life insurance and travel insurance all usually ask for details of an individual's birth date in order to calculate premiums and payments. This in itself can be insulting to anyone, given the assumption that their age means they are more or less likely to undertake certain activities, but for older people these details often become the litmus test upon which they are even offered a policy. The refusal of a policy, or the offer of premiums that are unaffordable, can often limit an older person's life unnecessarily. Without access to an insured car, or faced with a limited ability to travel, older people's worlds become much smaller. No access to life insurance can also make finances tight for a family worried about the loss of a sole or major provider.
Credit Offers and AgeismMuch like insurance offers, credit offers may be decided on age alone also. The ability to switch credit cards, take advantage of new customer credit offers, apply for loans, take out a mortgage and much more may all be decided simply on an individual's date of birth. Unfortunately there is no legislation prohibiting this practice, so older consumers must be aware of the criteria by which they will be judged for credit.
Advertising and AgeismAdvertising can be the worst offender when it comes to perpetuating stereotypes of older people. The grannies in rocking chairs, granddads oblivious to the Internet and even the elderly couples living in poverty, subsisting on the kindness of others, can all send the wrong messages about older people. Some codes do exist to regulate the advertising industry and what is shown on television, in print and in direct marketing campaigns.
Fighting Ageism in Consumer CareUnfortunately there is no legislation prohibiting ageism in consumer care, but there is much that consumers themselves can do to ensure fair treatment for everyone. Very simply voting with their purses will allow consumers to hit companies where it hurts the most - at the tills. Taking your business to a fairer competitor is always an option for consumers. Reporting discriminatory practices to a watchdog organisation, such as the aptly named Watchdog which airs on the BBC, may also be an avenue to highlight and end discriminatory practices.
Complaints to standards agencies such as the Advertising Standards Authority and the Office of Communications may also do some good, as may contacting the UK Consumer Protection Agency. Finally, notifying agencies working for equal rights for all individuals, such as Age Concern will also help to keep others informed of unfair practices and allow word to spread quickly and easily about companies that practice discrimination on the grounds of age.