Over the years, ‘the scrap heap’ has been a popular motif in campaigns against mandatory retirement. For many older people it has represented the reality of being excluded from the labour market: thrown on the scrap heap, no use to anyone, next stop the workhouse. In the 1950s and 1960s, how to adjust to retirement was the subject of extensive research (Phillipson, 1993). Success was represented in part by evidence of contentment and in part by that of activity. The concept of ‘disengagement’ was much discussed. During the 1980s and 1990s, attention turned to ‘early’ retirement and the structured relationship between age and the labour market. It was evident that workers in some industries were being forced out through redundancy programmes and others were ‘induced’ into an early exit (Bytheway, 1986).
Now, at the time of writing (2006), as the government pushes through anti-discriminatory measures, attention once again is heavily focused on employment and how older people, alongside other disadvantaged groups, are excluded from the opportunities and rewards of paid employment. The White Paper Fairness for All, for example, introduces the situation of older people with the comment: “Older people – who already experience discrimination in the labour market – will need choices and opportunities to continue in work and save for their retirement” (DTI, 2004, p 14).
Although the UK government is seeking to promote ‘equality and human rights’ in many areas of public life (see Chapter Three), there is a growing risk that legislation could become overly associated with employment practices and a few other, narrowly defined, ‘third age’ issues. If this were to happen, such attention could be construed, paradoxically, to be discriminating against people in their ‘fourth age’, and the ways in which they are excluded from education, housing, citizenship, travel and the like will be overlooked.
This chapter is based on our experience of coordinating a participative UK-wide research project aimed at uncovering evidence of age discrimination against older people. We first describe how we have defined age discrimination, ‘older people’ and participatory research. Then we go on to detail our methods and, in particular, the use of diaries.