How to better protect human rights in older age? AGE responds to UN consultation

UN_logo AGE responded to the call of the United Nations (UN), the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing (OEWG) on how to better protect human rights in older age. Our input will feed into the 11th session of the OEWG, and focus on the following topics:

  1. Right to work and access to the labour market
  2. Access to justice
  3. Content of the right to social protection and social security and related state obligations
  4. Content of the right to education, training, life-long learning and capacity-building and related state obligations


Right to work : a right – not an obligation!

The right to access the labour market is about being able to continue participating in employment and economic activities, but there is no obligation. In its contribution, AGE highlighted that mandatory retirement ages remain widespread and that the EU directive fighting age discrimination in the labour market is only partly efficient. Stereotypes and barriers such as skills gaps or skills outdating are still hindering access to employment for many older people. Almost half of the respondents of a recent EU-wide poll think that age is a limiting factor in recruitment. While the employment rate among older persons has been rising in the past years, they are still relatively low. The gender gap remains high and there is still a low probability for older workers who have lost their job to find new employment.

Beyond training and skills, the absence of adequate long-term care services is another barriers to the right to access the labour market, , which obliges many older workers to leave the labour market to provide informal care to a family member. Furthermore, public employment services are not always equipped to provide older jobseekers with the right support to re-enter the labour market. And employers often do not know if and how to adapt workplaces to the needs of an ageing workforce.


Access to justice: the right to legal redress

The right to access justice is about being able to get a fair solution to a legal problem, for example in case you are denied public services that you are entitled to, like healthcare or pensions, or when you are the victim of abuse or discrimination. Access to justice is not just about using the courts, but for example also about being able to resolve disputes through mediation or contacting an ombudsperson. Overall, older people underuse the legal system to seek redress because they lack legal literacy, adequate information and support, or because the services and legal system are not seen as accessible or fair. As a result, they are unlikely to report cases of abuse or other human rights breaches.

A key barrier to accessing justice is that the law itself can be ageist. For instance, at EU level, the lack of legal prohibition of age discrimination beyond the field of employment entails that in many countries it is impossible to challenge decisions denying older people an insurance coverage or a loan. Legal professionals may also hold prejudicial attitudes. Additionally, AGE members reported the lack of free legal aid as an important impediment. Access is particularly problematic for people living in remote or rural areas as most legal services are available in cities. Advocacy services, meaning independent legal advice for people in vulnerable situations, such as people living in institutions is not available in all EU countries. Long court backlogs also discourage older people to seek justice. Equality bodies and Ombudspersons do not always cover age as a ground of discrimination and may have limited scope to address older people’s rights. Physical barriers, such as lack of accessible buildings, absence of waiting/seating areas and the digitalisation of legal proceedings (ex. Submission of claims, follow case online, etc) create unique disadvantages for older people.


States obligations to ensure income security

Social protection comprises many different policies, such as pensions, minimum income, health and long-term care or family benefits. In its submission, AGE focussed on the aspect of income security through social protection systems, based on the discussions and AGE’s submission to the 10th session of the Working Group. In 2019, the exercise was to identify legal elements that should be part of a right to social protection for older persons.

AGE highlighted that social protections’ objective should be to ensure dignified, autonomous and independent lives, to fully participate in society with an adequate standard of living, without any kind of discrimination. This includes the right to contribute to social protection system regardless of the type of employment and to access non-contributory income support. Contributory benefits should reflect the contributions of a person to society, including non-paid contributions such as providing child or informal long-term care, and a right to solidarity for persons who were unable to participate in the labour market at different stages in life. The right should entail access to information about how to contribute, about acquired rights and their value and means to access benefits, including during pay-out phases. Benefits should be accessible without physical, cognitive or digital barriers or barriers linked to disability. Benefits based on past contributions should be maintained also when older persons move abroad or change employment status (e.g. towards self-employment). Benefits should also be adequate to fully participate in society, especially in the case of minimum pensions, and keep track with the evolution of living costs.


Defining education: the right to acquire and utilize knowledge and skills

AGE also submitted its proposals regarding the definition of the right to education and the specific ways in which States can address some of the key barriers that we had highlighted for the 10th session. We explained that education is not just a right on its own merit, but the enabler that allows older persons to live autonomous, healthy and independent lives, fulfil their aspirations, build their skills and capacities, develop their full human potential and sense of dignity, wellbeing and self-worth, and fully participate in society. Older persons should have access to all forms of formal and informal learning that is available to the general population, but also to benefit from training opportunities that meet their specific interests and needs. States must ensure that older persons have equal opportunities for in-work training as well as employability training, when they are unemployed. Older persons should not be excluded from opportunities on the basis of age limits, because they need care, because they live in residential facilities, or because they lack access to the internet. States must take measures to promote literacy, including digital literacy, among older persons so they are able to equally benefit from and participate in training and education. Education should be affordable, within easy geographical reach and of good quality. This is why States must ensure the availability of qualified teachers to address the needs and preferences of older persons, including through appropriate wage policies. Older persons should also be enabled to contribute as transmitters of knowledge and skills for all generations.

Next steps

AGE and some of our members will participate in the 11th session of the OEWG on 6-9 April 2020 in New York. We will orally present our position and actively participate in the debate around these four themes. AGE will also be involved in NGO meetings and side events that aim to push forward the agenda of a better application of human rights norms in the context of older age.

For more information

Submissions by AGE members

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