WHAT is the most common form of discrimination in the V ale of Evesham?

Fred Kaler has no doubt that it's not race, gender or sexual orientation.

It's a form of discrimination, which there is no law to protect against, and yet which everyone if they live long enough will face.

The 69-year-old former miner, shipyard worker and builder believes that ageism is endemic throughout the Vale and the rest of the country.

He is chairman of the town's older people's forum and is determined to change the perception of the elderly.

"The caricature of older people's groups as gatherings of old fogies who sit around drinking tea and playing bingo has to change," said Fred.

"Today's older generation are active, dynamic and a growing political force who will play a more rather than less important part in the future of the country."

Changing demographics mean that an increasing proportion of the population are over the age 50 and falling birth rates are set to exacerbate the trend.

There are more people in the Vale of Evesham over the age of 60 than there are under 16.

Nationally, there are well over a million people aged over 85 - that is five times the number 50 years ago.

Fred Kaler says that discrimination on the grounds of age affects every aspect of life.

"Ageism in the work place has resulted in hugely capable and experienced people being thrown on the scrap heap ridiculously young.

"In some professions people in their 30's experience ageism. But it is slowly changing as employers come to recognise the value of experience, knowledge, loyalty and reliability.

"Of course there are jobs involving physical work where age is a factor. But in many professions there is no reason why people cannot work into the 90's if they want."

But the leader of the Vale's growing "grey army" is strongly opposed to people being forced to work beyond the present retirement age.

"If people want to keep working that's fine but they should also be able to retire if they choose. It depends upon the person and the job."

Fred Kaler came to the Vale of Evesham 12 years ago and his forum now has more than 70 active members.

"Meetings are every month in Wallace House and we discuss key issues like pensions, health services and transport.

"Public transport is a huge issue for people of all ages in the Vale. A proper integrated and reliable public transport system is a priority."

Evesham's older people are also battling for a better deal from the health service.

"Treatment is rationed and people over 50 get a raw deal. I had a problem with my feet in my 30's and they took it seriously. When the same problem came back recently I was simply told it was my age and I had to put up with it.

"Attitude is the big problem. Older people are often patronised in this country."

The Forum group in Evesham believes the key to defeating ageism is changing attitudes and how people think.

"There is a place for legislation but simply having a law against ageism is not enough. Those that want to discriminate will find another excuse and it would be very difficult to police. The real change comes when people start to think differently."

Evesham's campaigning elderly believe things are slowly starting to change.

A recent survey by Age Concern showed that 69 per cent of people aged over 55 in the Midlands intend to vote at the next General Election compared with 38 per cent in the 18-54 age group.

The Vale's "grey tops" are on the march and ignoring this increasingly vociferous section of the community is not an option.