Sarah Gee - partner

An age old question of fairness?

Posted by Sarah Gee - partner on 1st October 2009

The Government’s “Equalities department”: has been running a consultation on age discrimination in services and public functions, which was brought to my attention by the Theatrical Management Association.

Although most theatres, in line with other arts organisations, tend to be pretty open and fair by nature, and very welcoming to older visitors, it set me wondering if our sector was being uninentionally discriminatory by offering concessions to those aged 60+?

Whilst it seems to me to be entirely appropriate and very desirable to offer events, concessions and benefits to some groups in society, there needs to be a justification. For example, it’s only right to offer an additional ticket to people with disabilities who need to be accompanied on a trip to the theatre; why should they be disadvantaged? There’s a clear moral, social and ethical reason for that offer, and one might also argue that there’s a business imperative too.

So, what is our justification in offering discounted tickets for people once they’ve passed their 60th birthday?

Well, received wisdom is that retired people are less well-off, and therefore custom-and-practice is that we subsidise their attendance. But aren’t we making a massive assumption here: that older people are poorer?

What about people who are in work but on low incomes? Or families, where the cost of parents/guardians and their offspring attending an event can be truly prohibitive? I know many older people who take advantage of every discount that’s going (fair enough, I probably would if I could!) but equally would be able to pay full price. Sure they may come less frequently, but I doubt that the bottom line would be all that different; many visits at minimal cost could well add up to less than one visit at full price.

Which makes me wonder if we’re actually measuring the right things here. Is it deemed more preferable by our board or funders to have higher visitor numbers, or money in our bank accounts?

I’d be really keen to hear your thoughts on this, pro or con.

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