Roundtable on Women and Poverty: AGE brings the voice of older women


photo by Alpay Tonga on Unsplash

On 22 October 2020, the European network of national equality bodies, EQUINET, co-organized a virtual roundtable on “Women and Poverty: Breaking the Cycle” with the Spanish Institute of Women and for Equal Opportunities. The purpose was to engage with equality bodies and civil society organisations working on women in poverty.

AGE Platform Europe was invited to take part in a panel discussion to present the perspective of older women facing poverty. Anne-Sophie Parent participated in this panel on behalf of AGE as expert nominated by Older Women’s Network Europe. Here is a summary of the main points raised by AGE during the roundtable and sent afterward as input to EQUINET upcoming Paper on Women and Poverty.

Just like for other vulnerable groups identified in the EQUINET report, the COVID-19 crisis has aggravated existing gender inequalities in old age.

Gender inequalities in accessing an adequate old age income

Inadequate income in old age is a result of disadvantage accumulated by women over their life course. Risk of poverty in old age, in particular very old age, is higher for women than men in all EU countries, including countries with high living standards. For example in Germany, mini-jobs are quite common among students, single parents and pensioners with low disposable income, many of whom are older women who struggle to make ends meet. Their lives were difficult before the COVID-19 pandemic and this has worsened since last March because many mini-job employees have lost their job/salary, yet they have no right to social benefits, neither to unemployment benefit nor to short-time work benefits. They are left with only basic income support. Not enough to cover their basic needs and pay for their rent and bills.

In addition, Covid-19 measures have hurt the most vulnerable the hardest: social services such as meals-on-wheels, social centres serving hot meals to community older persons, etc. were forced to closed down, affecting older women in greater numbers than men. When they reopened, food-banks saw new profiles calling for help: students, families with young children and pensioners mainly older women.

> AGE recommendation to EQUINET:

Help raise awareness of the urgency to collect data on poverty and social exclusion among older men and women including the oldest old, Statistics stop too early to catch the reality faced by older women, in particular the very old.

Gender inequalities in accessing health and long-term care in old age

On average older women with low income spend more years in poor health than older men. Yet they struggle to access the health and long-term care they need. In particular preventive and mental health care, hearing aids, dental care and glasses and residential care are not adequately refunded in many countries.

Older women face a much higher risk of needing to move to a nursing home. Yet nursing homes are very costly and women’s pensions are in general far from enough to cover their long-term care needs.

The COVID-19 first wave revealed how ageist our society is: when hospitals feared becoming overburdened with covid-19 patients, some form of triage was introduced which denied older persons aged 75+ in nursing homes access to hospital and intensive care. A majority were older women. Some did not even get compassionate palliative care and were left to die alone. The most vulnerable were older women with dementia. As a result a disproportionate number of covid-19 victims were older persons, and majority of them were older women.

> AGE recommendation to EQUINET:

Last spring the UN Secretary General called for respect of older persons” human rights. EQUINET should encourage national equality bodies to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on older persons in nursing homes and older persons receiving long-term care at home. EQUINET should work with its members to develop and implement a methodology to monitor older persons’ right to health and long-term care including in very old age.

Increasing risk of gender inequalities in old age in today’s digitized environments

Older women have often received less or even no financial and digital education compared to older men. While they may use social media more than older men for informal family contacts, they often do not feel skilled enough to shop around to get better deals or manage their assets online. This means they end up paying more for ex. For offline banking services. Since COVID-19 pandemic started, most services are only available online, fromir banking and payment services and requests to get social care or support. The lack of financial and digital skills put them a great disadvantage in particular as they on average have much lower disposable income than men.

> AGE recommendation to EQUINET:

Encourage national equality bodies to include older women and very old women (80+) in their monitoring of equal access to life-long-learning opportunities. Europe’s population is ageing fast and the oldest group is mainly composed of women facing increasing barriers in today’s digitized world.

General recommendations to EQUINET to improve the situation of older women:

The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the pervasive ageism that still prevails in society and which is aggravated for older women.

  • EQUINET should continue to encourage national equality bodies to raise awareness of ageism and its disastrous impact on older women who have accumulated disadvantage over their life course in all the dimensions covered by the EQUINET paper on Women and Poverty.
  • EQUINET should continue to participate in and encourage its members to participate in the UN Open Ended Working Group on Ageing as well as pay due attention to old women in their monitoring of UN Beijing Platform of Action.
  • EQUINET should also encourage its members to get involved in the monitoring of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (next review to be done in 2021 to be reported in 2022).

Report by Anne-Sophie Parent, OWN Europe expert in AGE Task Forces on Age-Friendly Environments, Adequate Income and Consumes’ Rights


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