UN independent expert on older persons: a rights-based approach to care is necessary!

Rosa Kornfeld pictureOn 16th September the United Nations (UN) Independent Expert on the Enjoyment of All Human Rights by Older Persons presented her report on care and autonomy to the Human Rights Council and exchanged views with Member States and civil society.

Ms Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, is the first UN Independent Expert mandated to look into the situation of older persons across the globe. As part of her mission she has to present an annual report to the UN Human Rights Council. This year she has focused on the rights to care and autonomy, which she considers as priority areas. At the same time she presented the outcomes of her visits to Slovenia, Austria and Mauritius.

Summary of the Expert’s report

In her report the UN Expert underlines that in order to ensure that older people are able to lead autonomous live it is essential ‘to move away from a needs-based and biomedical approach that focuses on disease and functional dependency to an all encompassing human rights-based approach in which the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons becomes an integral part of all policies and programmes affecting them, including care planning and delivery.’

The report showcases the fragmentation of human rights standards in this field and illustrates that a number of protection gaps in accessing care and autonomy are still prevalent across all regions. The Expert defines the right to autonomy broadly, including elements that relate to the person’s capacity to make decisions, the necessary financial means, as well as supportive policies and environments. She thus refers to all those aspects that contribute to older people’s autonomy, including equality, universal design, transport, housing, lifelong learning, age-friendly environments, and covers all types of care services, such as at home and in residential care homes, informal care and palliative care.

The report emphasizes that the responsibility for care and autonomy lies with the state and clarifies governments obligations, which include affording adequate resources and promoting a rights-based culture of care. The Expert calls for ‘aparadigm shift that focuses on the inclusion of older persons in society at all levels, encompassing age-friendly communities and environments, as well as people-centred models of care, and that promotes the autonomy and dignity of older persons’.

Interactive dialogue at the Human Rights Council

The Expert had the opportunity to exchange views with States and NGOs attending the Human Rights Council. Slovenia announced that they are establishing a special council on de-institutionalisation, which will contribute to the realisation of the rights of older people in care settings. Austria is elaborating at federal level a long-term plan ageing, aiming to safeguard and improve the quality of life of seniors, minimize inequalities and empower them to participate in society. These two countries received visits of the Independent Expert during the first year of her mandate.

In addition, Portugal stressed that the Expert’s report provides useful guidance for governments, in particular for institutional care, while Italy underlined the role of new technologies in the empowerment of older persons. Ireland announced that the new legal capacity bill is taking into account the specific challenges faced by older persons. The EU delegation affirmed that preventing abuse and supporting the autonomy of older persons must remain priorities and was interested in the Expert’s views about State action to prevent and eliminate elder abuse within families. The Expert responded that states should have laws and policies aiming to prevent and punish ill-treatment of older persons. In such acts, elder abuse should be singled out in order to increase awareness of the phenomenon. Moreover states should provide opportunities for anonymous complaints by older victims.

The Council of Europe also took the floor referring to their Recommendation on the rights of older persons, but also the event they organised jointly with the European Commission, AGE Platform Europe and the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions to commemorate the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on the 15-16 June 2015.

Our views

AGE warmly welcomes this first thematic report of the Independent Expert on care and autonomy, which is in line with our organisation’s strategic priorities to promote the rights of older people in need of long-term care and assistance. We fully support its comprehensive approach and in particular the reference to the quality of careservices and institutional aspects of abuse, which builds on the work that we have done at the EU level with the European Quality Framework for Long-Term care services.

We moreover share the Expert’s concerns about the impact of austerity measures on older people’s right to lead autonomous lives in dignity and independence, as our members bring evidence of the growing risk of human rights violations due to the pressure on public budgets. Alongside declining pension levels, an increasing numbers of services are now at the individual expense of older people, including health and long-term care and other essential services, such as housing or even transport, which contribute to older people’s autonomy, as explained in the Expert’s report. We feel it is particularly important to ensure access to adequate resources and services in this context of fiscal consolidation.

We are particularly worried that although the EU and its Member States argue that the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) adequately protects older people’s rights, this rhetoric has not been matched on the ground and that the age-specific barriers that deny older people equal access to disability benefits and support for independent living have not been addressed by the human rights framework. We would like to ask the Independent Expert to work closely with national governments, as well as the CRPD Committee and the Special Rapporteur on Disability to ensure that disability rights are equally applied across the life course and do not leave older people behind.

The European Union is an important actor in the protection of the rights of older people. For example, they can help raise awareness of the relevance of the CRPD for older people, as mentioned in the CRPD Committee concluding observations for the EU. Moreover, they can ensure that country-specific recommendationsaddressed to EU member states in the context of austerity, do not deny older people their human rights. This is why we would like to call on Ms. Kornfeld-Matte to meet with representatives of the European Commission in Brussels to share her report and exchange on how the European Union could address the different aspects of the rights to care and autonomy and more generally what the EU can do for the full enjoyment of the human rights of older people.

For more information you may contact Nena Georgantzi, Policy Officer.

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