Older people’s rights – our contribution to the upcoming UN discussions


AGE responded to the call for input of the United Nations (UN), 
Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing (OEWG) on how to better protect human rights in older age in 4 areas: sustainable development, economic security, right to work and access to justice.

Our contribution is based on written input received from organisations of older people in several EU Member States and on webinars open to all AGE members. It will feed into the 12th session of the OWEG which will take place in April with a focus on the following topics:

Sustainable Development and the Right to Participate

Older people participate and contribute to development in all areas of life: economically through employment, as entrepreneurs, and consumers as well as through the provision of unpaid informal care; socially by volunteering (formally and informally) and engaging in associations and the life of their communities and, politically by taking part in elections, engaging in political parties and social movements. One key concern noted by AGE members was the lack of meaningful involvement in decision-making. AGE members highlighted the need for organisations of/for older persons to be included in conversations regarding all policy issues, not just those concerning older persons. Older persons or a representative should be included in official delegations or be supported to participate at key international meetings, such as the OEWG.

AGE also noted the lack of formal status for volunteers. Mobility and accessibility are necessary for older people to access their right to participation. Opportunities and challenges to exercise such rights differ in rural and urban areas; this presents difficulty in policy creation as a one-size-fits-all approach is not suitable.

Economic Security: the Right to an Adequate Standard of Living

At European level, elements of the right to an adequate standard of living are provided for in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, the Revised European Social Charter and the EU Pillar of Social Rights. The majority of these provisions do not target specifically older people, are dispersed and do not cover equally all aspects of this right (e.g., food, clothing, housing and social services).

Poverty should not be understood only as financial means but also include aspects of general wellbeing, health and social inclusion. Pension adequacy was at the centre of AGE’s submission, specifically inequalities for women, those belonging to ethnic or migrant groups and other facing other forms of disadvantage. Pension indexation mechanisms exist in most member States, but these are often inadequate to keep track with the rise of living costs. This means that even adequate pensions at the time of retirement slowly erode over time and become inadequate as we get older.

In order to prevent economic insecurity in old age, a life course approach from multiple sectors is needed to equip people throughout their lives with the tools needed to support themselves at an older age. Poverty and social exclusion, lack of education and health issues in childhood and early adulthood are linked to an increased risk of poverty throughout the lifespan, including older age, thus investing in measures which engage people of all ages is pertinent to the economic security of older people.

Normative elements :

  • The right to work

AGE highlighted that under current European law, older people’s right to work is not protected on an equal basis with others. Older people should be guaranteed the right to determine when to withdraw from the labour force and not be obliged to retire under mandatory retirement or other discriminatory policies. The availability of social protection systems that provide income security during career breaks or reduction of working time for education and unpaid work, such as caregiving, were also proposed by AGE as necessary to address existing inequalities. This would involve laws and policies that allow people to combine paid with unpaid forms of work and to gradually transition to retirement, but also the calculation of caregiving time to build pension rights. Older persons should have the right to work even when in receipt of a pension and to ensure that their combined income is sufficient to afford them a decent standard of living.

AGE underlined gaps in the current frameworks as the unequal protection of age discrimination in the field of employment; the limited understanding of how the right to work could be applied beyond legal retirement/pensionable age ; the very little/scant attention given to the informal sector; the lack of clarity about the share of responsibility between states and employers; the lack of obligation to provide reasonable accommodation(s) for older workers and the lack of explicit obligations for positive action, measures to eliminate ageism and the development of fair working conditions and inclusive, diverse workplaces. States should include the promotion of participation of older people in the labour market in their employment policies and pay specific attention to the safety and health problems of older workers.

  • Access to justice

Access to justice is a core element of the rule of law, a fundamental right in itself, and an essential pre-requisite for the protection and promotion of all other human rights.

People 55+ are less likely to be aware of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, to feel well informed about it and to correctly identify in which situations the Charter applies compared to younger age groups. Older persons are also the least likely to complain in case of violation of their human rights. This presents a major challenge to this right and there is a need for a much more holistic application of the right to access justice.

Legal assistance and accommodation of the needs of older people (e.g. in terms of accessibility, language, information, time of proceedings, non-digital means, and so forth) are necessary to facilitate older people’s access to justice. This should also involve substantive and procedural guarantees for non-biased judicial proceedings and rulings, such as for instance ageism consciousness and awareness training for judiciary and legal professionals and also the repeal of discriminatory laws.

Next steps

AGE and some of our members intend to participate in the 12th session of the OEWG on 11-14 April 2022 in New York to bring forward our views through oral and written statements. We will orally present our position and actively participate in the debate around these above 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 universal rights in the context of older age.

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