Formulating public policies on ageing and disability: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development


Contribution to a pan Latin-American conference in Santiago de Chile in September 2017

by Dirk Jarré, President of the European Federation of Older Persons – EURAG

Just for information: EURAG, created 55 years ago, is the very first transnational civil society organisation of and for senior citizens in Europe. As a non-profit federation, independent of any political party, it is accountable only to its members.EURAG is strongly committed to promote the quality of life of older persons in society and to argue for their better recognition and participation in all relevant economic, social and public affairs.

The topic of my presentation is a complex one:”Formulating public policies on ageing and disability: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.

It contains various very important elements, each one deserving a paper on its own. Thus I shall not try to cover all of them but rather concentrate on the evolution of ageing policies and their role in a sustainable development concept.

When mentioning “sustainable development” we talk about a development process that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. To realise sustainable development, it is essential to combine three core elements, namely economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection. These elements are interconnected and demand concerted efforts of all major societal actors in order to achieve an inclusive, sustainable and resilient future with well-being of individuals, societies and of our globe.

On 01 January 2016, the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the UN member states in September 2015, officially came into force. Even though the SDGs are not legally binding, all countries have accepted that these 17 Goals are universally applicable to all countries – poor, rich and middle-income.They have committed themselves to mobilize efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind.

Governments have the primary responsibility and are expected to establish the necessary national policies. It is also their task to insure monitoring and review of the progress made in implementing the Goals.

For us it is important to understand that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development represents a global plan of action to achieve sustainable development in a balanced manner and that itseeks to realize the human rights of all people. It aims at ensuring that the Sustainable Development Goals have positive effects for all groupings in society, with a particular focus on the most vulnerable populations, including the two specific groups of older persons and persons with a disability.

Population ageing is certainly one of the most important and on-going global demographic trends of the 21st century. About 10 per cent of today’s global population – that is around 700 million persons – have already reached the age of 60 plus. By the year 2050 the number of older persons will most probably have doubled and then represent around 20 per cent of the global population. In Latin America it will even reach 25 per cent of the population, with around 180 million persons.

United Nations statistics show that more than half a billion persons worldwide have a disability as a result of one or more mental, physical or sensory impairments. Despite remarkable efforts of the United Nations and other international organisations, the disabled population often remains among the most marginalized, discounted, invisible and abused societal group throughout the world – with about 80 per cent of them living in deplorable conditions in developing countries.

A non-observance of the fundamental human rights of these two important societal groups and the difficulties, limitations and exclusions suffered by them do not only constitute personal injustices but also, and very importantly, mean an acuteethical deficiency and a serious impoverishment for society at large. It is well known that persons with a handicap, who have constantly to surmount barriers and cope with difficult challenges in society, often develop very creative and innovative skills that the rest of the population may lack. Likewise, older persons with all their life experience, accumulated competences and balanced judgement have a lot to offer to society and many of them are more than willing to invest time and energy into the well-being of the community.

To disregard and leave these groups behind, certainly constitutes a great loss for the quality, the social fabric and the development potential of human society. They must be respected as active agents of societal development – and seen as an integral part of the process – in order to achieve inclusive and sustainable development progress.

Consequently it is of utmost importance for the successful implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, that the problems, needs and aspirations of older persons and of persons with disabilities are adequately addressed in national and regional policies, strategies and programs dealing with those Sustainable Development Goals that are significant for these groups – and any other disadvantaged, marginalized and vulnerable societal segment.

This applies in particular to the Social Development Goalsthat are dealing with objectives like, for example:

  • Ending poverty in all its forms everywhere.
  • Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages.
  • Ensuring inclusive, equitable quality education and life-long learning opportunities for all.
  • Promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
  • Reducing inequality within and among countries.
  • Making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

It is obvious that the complexity of such a multi-dimensional and transversal approach requires careful preparation with high responsibility of the member states of the United Nations. But the governments should not shoulder this eminent task alone. In order to be successful, governments should reach out to their natural partners for such an ambitious undertaking. Already the social philosopher and author of the famous essay “The Social Contract”, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, wisely stated that no important societal project or important reform can only be successfully carried out if the three most powerful components of society are in full agreement and ready to invest in it – namely the Sovereign (he meant the State), the Merchant (he meant the market forces) and the Citizen (he meant civil society).

When public authorities are committed to such an ambitious project like the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, they must obviously take on board the social partners – employers and trade unions – as well as concerned organised civil society. Jointly they have to go through all necessary phases of policy formulation, decision-making and implementation. This process starts with an analytic comparison of the Sustainable Development Goals with the conditions and the potentials of the respective country. On these grounds a general political concept has to be developed in order to build up a sound strategy leading to detailed policy decisions as the motor for concrete regulations and action programs. The implementation of policies, legislative measures, financial and manpower investments – as well as democratic support – must be continuously monitored and submitted to rigorous impact assessment measures. At the end an evaluation procedure with possible revisiting and readjustment of policies, of decision-making, investments and institutional linking must be carefully carried out.

This whole process of assessing needs, analysing options, decision-making, implementation and controlling is a matter of intense cooperation between the concerned forces of society – with the State having paramount responsibilities and with a fully recognised role of civil society representing the concerns of those in need of support and attention or affected by public measures.

Competent civil society has to assume a very high responsibility in the monitoring and even control of all these processes. To be able to live up to this responsibility, the indispensable recognition of their societal value, enabling conditions for structured dialogue, cooperation and intervention as well as financial support for their empowerment needs to be ensuredby the State.

Without civil society, grand plans and good intentions like the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development risk to remain more or less empty words on paper, disappearing in deep drawers of politicians and public administrations.

However, enthusiasm, commitment and dedication of all parties concerned can lead to quite remarkable results. To end my contribution with, I would like to share with you a European experience in which I have personally been deeply involvedover the last 15 years.

In April 2002 the Madrid World Assembly on Ageing adopted the “Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing”. This Plan argued for significant changes in attitudes, policies, strategies and practices to respond positively to the important challenges created by population change during the coming decades. It comprises 130 concerns, concepts and action points addressing the changes and the needs of ageing societies and older persons and calls for action that gives more importance to older persons in societal development, that advance health and well-being into old age, and that ensure enabling and supportive environments. It stressed that “a society for all ages encompasses the goal of providing older persons with the opportunity to continue contributing to society. To work towards this goal, it is necessary to remove whatever excludes or discriminates against them.”

To base action in the region on a more specific approach the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (= UNECE) decided to set up a “Regional Implementation Strategy” for the “International Action Plan on Ageing” which encompasses 10 key commitments with a total of 100 specific issues was decided upon by the 56 UNECE member states in September 2002 in Berlin

ThisEuropean “Regional Implementation Strategy” is supported by a Working Group on Ageing,attached to the secretariat of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe in Geneva. It is composed by delegates from the 56 UNECE member states as well as a representative of the research community and of civil society organisations dealing with ageing.

The Working Group on Ageing concentrateson the improvement of cooperation, on exchange of good practice, on indicator development and on capacity building. It publishes comprehensive “Policy Briefs” on important issues related to population ageing, the living situation and needs of older persons and societal attitudes towards ageing.

In order to monitor, to appreciate and to support the implementation of the “Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing”, the UNECE holds a regional high level conference every five years on specific action areas defined in the Regional Implementation Strategy – the first one having been the Berlin Ministerial Conference in Berlin in 2002 that adopted the European “Regional Implementation Strategy”.

In 2007 the second Ministerial Conference on Ageing in León/Spain took stock of the progress made since 2002 and raised challenges to be met urgently under the topic “A society for all ages: challenges and opportunities”. It ended with the adoption of a strong “Ministerial Declaration” confirming previous engagements and tracing new lines of action.

In 2012 the third Ministerial Conference on Ageing was held in Vienna/Austria under the title “Ensuring a society for all ages: promoting quality of life and active ageing”. The final document, the “Ministerial Declaration”, containedagain measures the member states committed themselves to implement. They addressed the following core areas: “Longer working life and ability to work”, 
”Participation, non-discrimination and social inclusion of older persons”, “Dignity, health and independence in older age” and “Intergenerational solidarity”.

Now we are close to the fourth European Ministerial Conference on Ageing to be held from 20th to 22nd September in Lisbon/Portugal. The main approach will be “A Sustainable Society for All Ages: Realizing the potential of living longer” and the Ministerial Declaration with its commitments will deal with the issues “Recognizing the potential of older persons”, “Encouraging longer working life and ability to work” and “Ensuring ageing with dignity”.

It is an outstanding feature of these Ministerial Conferences that they are all prepared – in structure as well as in content – in dialogue and through a strong cooperation with representatives of concerned civil society and the research community. In addition, the program of each Ministerial Conference includes an integrated first day with two Civil Society Fora – one for the non-governmental organisations and one for the research community. Both Fora then present their views on the Ministerial Declaration and their recommendations to the states during the last day of the conference.

The evolution of the substantive political topics over the last 15 years of ageing policies through a common organisation of 56 countries of the European Region shows an interesting process. It demonstrates how much it is possible that public policies can be discussed, conceived and implemented in the right direction of sustainable development, under the condition that they are based on solid and agreed strategies with strong commitments and that they are grounded in a concept of trustful cooperation between State and civil society.

It is certainly useful for all regions of the world to develop effective mechanisms of exchange of experiences and practices so that we can learn from each other and optimise together our efforts to achieve peaceful sustainable development for all people of the planet living today and coming after us. The remarkable work of Ms. Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, a Chilean, as the first UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, is definitely a very important step in this direction.

Dear participants in this important conference,I whish you very fruitful discussions with future-shaping results.

Thanks for your kind attention!