25th UN International Day of Older Persons warns of persisting ageism and denying of human rights in old age

OlderPersonsDay2015According to recent WHO figures, the number of people over the age of 60 is expected to double between 2000 and 2050 and in 2050 more than 1 in 5 people will be 60 year or older. Unfortunately, the growing older population has intensified manifestations of ageism. This trend makes it all the more urgent to get mobilized more widely to adapt our societies and make them both age-friendly and sustainable.

A number of initiatives and reports that are relevant to that debate were launched on the occasion of the 25th International Day of Older Persons, which, this year again, acted as a necessary reminder that all older persons, no matter what their health and living conditions are, should remain in charge of their own lives and be given equal opportunities to age in dignity and participate in their communities.

AGE new online handbook involves older people in advancing their human rights

The International Day marks for AGE the launch of its new online publication ‘Older Persons’ Self-Advocacy Handbook’ intended to support the involvement of older persons in all processes that affect their human rights.

With this Handbook, which describes concrete ways that older people can use human rights to influence government policies and measures, we aim to empower older people, as self-advocates and through their representative organisations, to voice their concerns and expectations and drive positive change in their everyday lives.

This handbook, which can also be used by different stakeholders, is aimed at facilitating a constructive dialogue among older people and policymakers and promote a human-rights based approach in ageing policy at all levels.

“As rights-holders, older persons should be able to exercise their rights in all circumstances”, stressed the United Nations Independent Expert on the Enjoyment of All Human Rights by Older Persons, Ms. Rosa Kornfeld-Matte in our press release.

WHO report calls for action to promote dignified ageing, value older people’s contribution and challenge ageism

The respect of older persons’ human rights is the first reason to act on ageing and health, as identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) in its “World report on ageing and health”. As a matter of fact, governments have an obligation according to international law, to provide the “highest attainable standard of health” of older persons and support age-friendly environments.

Yet, people often experience stigma and discrimination, and violations of their rights at individual, community and institutional levels simply as a result of their age. “A rights-based approach to healthy ageing can help address the legal, social and structural barriers to good health for older people, and clarify the legal obligations of state and non-state actors to respect, protect and fulfil these rights”, states the WHO report.

The second and third reasons for taking action according to the WHO report relate to the social and economic sustainability of our society. Sustainable development requires that we address the unacceptable number of older people who live in poverty, who are the victims of mistreatment or natural disasters, and who have limited access to health care and social care (see ILO report in the next paragraph), and also that we provide the necessary conditions for all generations to contribute.

Valuing and fostering older people’s contribution while optimizing the expenditures associated with population ageing is also an economic imperative. These contributions may have various forms: direct participation in the formal or informal workforce, taxes and consumption, property transfers to younger generations and a number of other benefits make to their families and communities.

Yet, according to the WHO report, analyses of the implications of population ageing are evolving, but the models that are often used today are often based on ageist assumptions – e.g. chronological age linked to dependency (everyone older than 64 is considered to be dependent) – which no longer reflect the current diversity of seniors’ situation. This may therefore lead to inappropriate responses.

Moreover those assumptions ignore the influence that policies and other external factors may have on the proportion of older people participating in the formal workforce, as well as the fact that many older people may no longer be in the workforce but may be financially independent, e.g. through the assets they have accumulated during their lives or contributions made to their pension funds.

ILO reports that lack of long-term care coverage diminishes older people’s rights

The current poor health and social protection coverage worldwide mentioned in the WHO report has also been emphasized in a recent report by the International Labour Organization (ILO), which examines long-term care (LTC) protection in 48 countries. The report highlights that serious lack in protection, not only at global level but also in many European countries, diminishes older persons’ human rights and widens age and gender-based discrimination. ILO further highlights that addressing the LTC shortage and providing universal LTC coverage worldwide would result in the creation of millions of jobs.

This study supports AGE’s views on the importance for long-term care to be part of the social floors and standards to be developed in the near future by the European Union, and the need to push European member states to take their responsibilities in addressing the gaps in provision of long-term care services and support.

AGE also fully supports the report’s recommendations to support informal carers and to address seriously the question of ageism and its impact on older persons’ health, access to services and risk of falling into poverty.

Launch of EU Covenant on Demographic change

The 2015 International Day focusing this year on sustainability and age inclusiveness of the urban environment offered a timely opportunity for AFE-INNOVNET network to remind the launch of EU Covenant on Demographic Change on 7 December, and reiterate its support to that important initiative. We indeed see the Covenant as a necessary vehicle to promote the rights of older persons and the creation of age-friendly environments at grass-roots level, as recommended by the World Health Organization and the United Nations in their ageing policy recommendations, and by the United Nations Independent Expert on the Enjoyment of All Human Rights by Older Persons in her press statement released on 1st October.

The Covenant will gather all European local, regional and national authorities, together with other relevant stakeholders, that are committed to promote active and healthy ageing through the development of age-friendly environments following WHO Age-Friendly Cities’ Guide.


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