Fundamental Rights Report 2018 calls for a rights-based approach to ageing


The European Union is founded on the universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity. To reflect those common values, Europeans’ civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights are enshrined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Those rights are understood as inalienable rights to which a person is inherently entitled as human being, which means that they apply to everyone, regardless of age, gender, ability, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, religion or belief.

However, while our rights do not change as we grow older, older persons often face negative attitudes and discrimination in particular in access to health care, employment, goods and services, information and education. Ageist stereotypes, often reflected in laws, policies and practices across Europe (see AGE position paper), hinder older people’s full participation in society on an equal basis with others. Ageism can also make older people more susceptible to neglect, abuse and other human rights violations. Such violations often remain invisible, as the UN working group highlighted, even by older people themselves, as AGE members pointed out at AGE Annual Conference 2018.

Widespread and multifold impact of ageism

In its annual report 2018, the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) also identifies ageism as the main cause for age discrimination and inequalities in old age. In inducing a negative perception of old age, ageist stereotypes create widespread barriers to the full and equal exercise of fundamental rights by older persons. They also reinforce exclusion and affect intergenerational solidarity.

For the first time, FRA addresses specifically the rights of older people in a focus chapter, which provides a detailed analysis of the negative impact of ageism:

  • At individual level, ageism affects employment, access to healthcare, the risk of poverty, abuse. Some figures speak for themselves: 56 % of the respondents to Eurobarometer survey consider being over 55 years to be a disadvantage when looking for work, and 80 % of reported being comfortable working with someone over 60 years. In Europe every year at least 4 million people aged 60 years and older experience elder maltreatment in the form of physical abuse, 1 million sexual abuse, 6 million financial abuse and 29 million mental abuse. And in the area of healthcare, although statistical data are limited, evidence suggests that old age can limit access to surgical treatment or rehabilitation services.
  • At group level, FRA underlines the complexity of discrimination against older men and women, often based on two or more factors, including gender, ethnic origin, disability, and geographical location (rural areas). This is referred to as multiple or intersectional discrimination. For example…. (older women accumulate disadvantages throughout their life that translate in lower pensions and other inequalities in old age)
  • At societal level, the recurrent stereotypes linked to ageism that see older people as burden affect policies relating to old age, undermining the potential contribution of older people to economic, social and cultural life. This negative perception, which dominates public debates, enhances intergenerational conflict and justifies the exclusion of older people in several spheres of life.

Changing perspective in Europe

FRA recognizes that there is an increasing focus on older people’s rights at EU level, with policies moving from a care-oriented approach, based on deficits and needs, to a more participative one, based on rights, which is also reflected in policies and initiatives promoting active ageing.
In its report, FRA describes the current EU legal and policy developments in relation to older people’s rights, which demonstrate a slow but clear shift towards human-rights based approach to older people. At the same time the report underlines that the potential of the EU framework to promote and protect the rights of older people has not been fully exploited. For example, the European Pillar of Social Rights could be the occasion to renew and intensify efforts to promote the implementation of the human rights approach to ageing. In addition, it stresses the lack of statistical data to provide an overview of all challenges that affect and undermine older peoples’ rights. The report also refers to global developments, such as the adoption of the Council of Europe recommendation on the rights of older people and the UN Open-Ended Group on Ageing that have contributed to the shift towards a more rights-based approach to ageing.

FRA opinions in short

For FRA, the fundamental rights of older people need to be better protected. This implies that society should reconsider its vision of being ‘old’ and how it treats older people, linking it to changing social and individual realities, instead of making assumptions merely based on ‘chronological age’. It should also stop regarding the older population as a homogenous group, which leads to generalized, biased views and affect older persons’ human rights. Every older person is different, with different experience, ability, perceptions and health conditions, and should be recognized as such.

More specifically, FRA further calls for:

  • More and accurate data which includes older people. We need more age brackets in large-scale EU surveys and more age-specific studies.
  • The adoption of the EU Equal Treatment Directive (also called ‘Horizontal’ non-discrimination Directive), which would extend protection against age discrimination to all areas of life, including access to goods and services, social protection, healthcare and housing.
  • The implementation of the principles and rights of the EU Pillar of Social Rights, including the adoption of the Work-life balance Directive and a comprehensive European Accessibility Act.
  • A better use of the European funds to promote a rights-based approach to ageing.
  • The introduction of older people’s issues in core EU’s policy coordination mechanisms, such as the European Semester.

The Fundamental Rights Report is fully in line with AGE Platform Europe’s opinions and work. For several years now, AGE has being mainstreaming a rights-based approach to its work and have also called for better mainstreaming of older people’s rights across EU policies. Like FRA, we believe that this approach can help us address the issue of ageing in a more comprehensive and effective way and meet older people’s needs more adequately.

Building further on this debate, AGE is organizing in September, as part of FRA Fundamental Rights Forum, a session on Making rights real: the fight against ageism. The session will further explore the drivers of ageism that act as barriers to the full and equal realisation of human rights in older age. It will call on human rights professionals from different fields to reflect on how they can integrate the fight against ageism in their work. And, since ageism cuts across the age spectrum, the session will also discuss ageism as it is experienced both by old and young people.


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