Almost two thirds of older people do not believe the Government is doing enough to fight age discrimination.

The poll for Help the Aged revealed 78 per cent of people aged 60 and over want an outright ban on age discrimination, while 63 per cent believe the Government's efforts to legislate against the problem have been inadequate.

Just over half of older people (51 per cent) said health professionals dismissed symptoms as "just old age", while 53 per cent believe there is little dignity for the elderly in hospital or care homes. One in 10 said they had been spoken to in an "ageist way".

Help the Aged is calling for age discrimination to be placed on an equal footing with racism and sexism.

Ministers are looking at how age, race, gender, disability, sexual orientation and religion can be brought together into a set of laws - the Single Equalities Bill. The charity wants the Bill to include a ban on age discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services, including health and social care services.

Head of public affairs Kate Jopling said: "It's high time the Government stopped drag-ging its heels and took an active role in fighting age discrimination. Ageist attitudes and practices are a daily blight on older people's lives, affecting the type of care they receive, the insurance options available to them and even the way they are spoken to.

"We live in a society where racism and sexism are not tolerated, yet age prejudice is tolerated and even accepted in goods, facilities and services. Age is the only equality group left without legislative protection."

A random sample of 1,321 adults across the country above the age of 60 took part in the telephone poll conducted by ICM from August 8 to 19 and the results were weighted to the profile of all adults. n Three-quarters of British people would be prepared to pay higher income tax to fund better care for older people, according to another survey. Adding a penny in the pound on income tax would raise #2 billion, which would pay for 80 per cent of all care home and domiciliary care fees, according to charity Counsel and Care.

People aged 55 and over were most likely to support paying more tax to improve care for the aged (82 per cent), followed by the 45-54 age group (77 per cent), the poll found. The survey also found a quarter of 45 to 54-year-olds did not know where to find advice on care for older people, even though this age group is most likely to have ageing parents needing help.

Stephen Burke, chief executive of Counsel and Care, said: "Clearly the public want better care for our ageing population. If we can develop a co-payment option that is a true partnership between the state, the family and the individual, we can move towards a fairer system of paying for care in the future."

The survey was commissioned by Counsel and Care and Lawpack Publishing to coincide with the publication of a new book, Caring For Loved Ones In Old Age, and the start today of the first ElderCare Week.

The book offers advice on the rights of people who are becoming carers, detailed guidance on paying for long term care, and choosing a care home for a loved one.

YouGov surveyed 2,012 British adults online between August 1 and 3.