The COVID-19 crisis has disproportionally affected some more vulnerable groups in society. How can we ensure these groups are treated fairly and equally? And what can we do to help those who are most vulnerable in this crisis? AGE was invited to debate those questions at the webinar ‘Liberties in Lockdown – Please mind the generational gap” led by the European Liberal Forum (ELF), a think tank supported by the European Parliament.
“The COVID-19 crisis has revealed issues of violations of older persons’ rights that have existed for quite a while”, underlined AGE Secretary-General, Anne-Sophie Parent. “Actually, the more our society is ageing, the more ageist it becomes”.
Ageism is everywhere and even structural in the way our social protection and our whole society is organized. “In some countries you have age limits to access some treatment, but also the way older persons are viewed generally in the media and by everyone is ageist. Nobody likes the idea of getting old” and our general narrative around ageing is directly involved in this negative self-perception. Yet as human being “we have rights until the end of our lives” and these need to be reaffirmed during COVID-19.
‘Lockdown measures did not aim to save older persons’ lives’
In her speech, AGE Secretary-General also explains why she disagrees with the assumption widely spread in the media and among decision-makers that the lockdown measures were introduced to save the lives of the most vulnerable. For Ms Parent, the actual purpose of those measures was to enable the health systems to regain their capacity to cope with the pandemic and on a longer term to save the economic fabric. “When we look at the number of people who lost their lives because of COVID-19, half of them were older persons who were never brought to hospital. So, it was not to save those lives that the lockdown measures were introduced”.
Addressing both COVID and climate challenges
Anne-Sophie further highlighted the link between the COVID-19 crisis and the climate change. Both crises are linked to globalization and need to be addressed in a coherent way. We need working age people to go back to work and the older population to remain active and play their part as well. Older persons are not only informal carers and volunteers, they are also consumers – large sectors depend on older people’s consumption – as well as investors, e.g. in green products to support a transition towards an economy that will enable all generations to have a decent life.
In a joint press statement together with the European Youth Forum (EYF), AGE urged the European Commission to launch the reflection process on demographic change and ageing planned on the EU agenda to identify what needs to be changed to address today’s social protection challenges and frame it in the perspective of climate change. We also need urgent action to implement the EU Pillar of Social Rights, in particular its principle 18. The way our health care system and social care systems are organized and the contributions that everyone makes need to be reviewed completely.
Rights have no age
For that, we hope the EU will take strong decisions and help Member States to “ensure people of all ages can have the life they deserve” and enjoy their human rights until the end of their lives. Mrs Parent referred to the recent statement on older persons’ rights by the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, which has been endorsed by 146 countries including all EU members states and the EU itself. This crisis has highlighted weaknesses that need to be addressed.
Younger people are suffering a lot, including from inadequate social protection when they lose their jobs. “We are fighting to get them better protection and better pensions later. We should continue to work all generations together.” The EU should lead a reflection on how to mobilize all generations to create a society that is good for everyone, regardless of age, and for the planet. And we need the economy to support this vision of a society that is inclusive of all and good for the planet.