UN Special Rapporteur flags inadequate social protection for older persons with disabilities

UN logo-smallThe United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities released a study on how to ensure the right of persons with disabilities to social protection.

A recent report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Ms. Catalina Devandas-Aguilar explains that social protection contributes to the enjoyment by all persons of an adequate standard of living. She argues that the states need to move away from the welfare model of social protection in case of disability and adopt the rights-based approach enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). Moreover, the UN expert stresses that national social protection systems ‘are not only a powerful instrument for providing income security and reducing poverty and inequality, but play an important role in enhancing human potential, enabling individuals to access food, health care, education, employment and financial means’. Overall, for Ms. Devandas- Aguilar the objective of social protection is to allow everyone, regardless of disability, age, gender or race to live in dignity and independence.

What is there for older persons?

The Special Rapporteur underlines that the states should adopt a lifecycle approach to social protection, in line with the ILO recommendation on national Social Protection Floors and calls for avoiding discrimination and achieving equality of social protection across all age and gender groups. She moreover reminds that even in the context of scarce resources, States should ensure a minimum essential level of benefits for all persons with disabilities and their families, which amounts to the core of nationally defined social protection floors. Such provisions are crucial to securing an adequate standard of living, including basic subsistence, essential primary health care, basic shelter and housing, and basic forms of education. She moreover underlines the important role of older women with disabilities as caregivers and asks the states to offer appropriate assistance.

Poor calculation of needs entails poverty traps for older persons with disabilities

The UN expert furthermore highlights that persons with disabilities are faced with higher expenses due to their care and support needs compared with the rest of the population. For example, older persons who acquire some type of disability are asked to pay about 65% more of their weekly income than persons who do not face such challenges in their everyday lives. This means than in case families cannot cover these expenditures, a lower standard of living and poverty are at stake. She therefore concludes that these extra costs of disability need to be calculated in order to afford adequate social protection, otherwise ‘the burden of disability-related extra costs can easily nullify the enjoyment of other human rights, including living independently and with freedom of choice in any given society’.

Risk of exclusion of older people with support needs

Ms. Devandas-Aguilar stresses that the states should pay particular attention not to exclude specific groups from their disability provisions. This is particularly relevant for older persons, who are often excluded from receiving disability benefits on the account that they have a right to state pension. However, as the UN rapporteur explains, contributory schemes often do not cover the increasing disability-related expenses that older people are faced with. Therefore we support her view that the states should unbundle assistance schemes aimed at income security (such as pensions) and disability benefits and also take into account the situation of persons with disabilities when targeting specific age groups.

The challenges of older people with disabilities without access to pension

AGE also welcomes the reference to the particular challenges of older people with disabilities that do not have access to contributory pensions and the need to guarantee income security and support services for this group. The Special rapporteur concludes that ‘as disability rates are considerably higher among older persons, there is a growing demand for health and social care and support services to enable them to continue living independently and with dignity’.

Lack of consultation of older persons with disabilities

According to the UN Special Rapporteur, tht states have an obligation to ensure that persons with disabilities are actively engaged in the development of social protection systems, including in the planning, design, implementation and monitoring of social protection systems, at all levels of governance. Yet, she notes that, among other groups, older persons with disabilities are often excluded from such consultations.

AGE warmly welcomes this report, which reflects some of the challenges faced by older people with disabilities in equally enjoying their human rights and wishes to invite the Special Rapporteur to work together with older people’s associations to address the poverty trap that older people with disabilities encounter as long as pension and disability systems are not designed in an inclusive way.

For more information you may contact Nena Georgantzi, Policy Officer, nena.georgantzi@age-platform.eu

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