Toward a better recognition and respect of older people’s rights in the EU   

logoeur1-105x150

AGE General Assembly 2015, Final Declaration

A number of binding instruments enshrine rights relevant to older people, such as the European Convention of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Yet many national governments neglect the relevance of socio-economic policies to the fulfilment of their human rights obligations under international and European treaties. Moreover, whereas the European Union proclaims the rights of older people in its Charter of Fundamental Rights and is bound by the UNCRPD, this normative recognition of older people’s rights is far from being matched at the level of implementation.

2015 has been a year of major political, economic and social developments in the European Union, including the debate about Eurozone’s future, the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean and the negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). These significant developments add to the complexity of the national contexts and European integration. however the realisation of the rights of older persons relates to Europe’s capacity to address today’s global challenges, such as demographic ageing, climate change, technological evolution, migration or the fairer distribution of wealth within and among generations and countries and should be taken into account across all EU and national policies

Two key trends add to the widening human rights disparities faced by older people across the EU: the increasing privatisation of public goods and services, which highlights the increasing inadequacy of pensions even the average ones, and the persisting inequalities among people aged 65+, which lead to regressive trends, such as the concentration of poverty among older women, migrants and persons with disabilities and structural barriers in access to care and social protection systems.

It is time for the EU and national governments to be held accountable for the rights they put on paper but do not put into practice in relation to specific groups. By respecting the human rights of older persons, policy makers at all levels will not only comply with their international commitments, but will also help build inclusive societies where citizens of all ages are able to contribute to and profit from economic growth and social progress.

Members of AGE Platform Europe met at the 2015 General Assembly to call on European Institutions and Member States to mobilise their respective capacities in order to secure the rights of older women and men. Their recommendations for policy alternatives speak out against the practices that facilitate or neglect the rights violations against older people and call for rights-based reforms at national and EU levels.

In order to address the complex realities faced by older people at grass roots level, AGE members urge EU and national policy makers to:

  • Strengthen the rights of older people based on article 25 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights1;

  • Eliminate age discrimination in national regulations and their implementation;

  • Apply these rights in a coordinated way between national, European and international levels and;

  • Use the silver economy and its innovation potential to meet the specific needs of Europe’s ageing populations.

Strengthen rights and equal access to them for all older people

Changing demographics combined with the pressure on public budgets have a significant impact on the capacity of public authorities to ensure adequacy of social protection systems and to deliver universal and quality services enabling people to age independently and with dignity.

National governments, while struggling to restore balance in public finances and boost their economies, often overlook the fulfilment of the rights older people hold as human beings. AGE member organisations warn against this oversight, which puts at risk the respect of human rights of older persons, as well as hamper social cohesion within countries and across the European Union.

The EU must be coherent in its mandate under the Charter of Fundamental Rights to protect older people’s rights like other age and population groups’ rights. Combating persistent age discrimination in employment and access to goods and services has to be a priority for EU equality policies. An EU multi-stakeholder dialogue group on the rights of older people should be set up to operationalise article 25 of the EU charter and monitor the implementation of policies with regard to older persons. All EU initiatives should be rights-based in order to empower older people and allow them to prosper and enjoy their economic, social, cultural and civic rights as equal citizens.

To ensure an effective application of older people’s rights, AGE members call on National Governments and European Institutions to:

  • Recognise and address multifaceted social realities faced by some older people, such as low or eroding income, poor health status, age and/or gender-based discrimination, reduced physical or mental capacity, unemployment in particular long term, isolation, potential for physical or financial abuse and limited access to goods and/or services;

  • Guarantee an ex-ante fundamental rights impact assessment, including on the rights of older people, across national and EU actions in every policy area, in particular of the current economic reforms;

  • Accelerate the adoption of an ambitious horizontal equal-treatment-directive avoiding broad exemptions to age discrimination that risk nullifying the principle of age equality;

  • Preserve the adequacy of pensions at national level and guarantee individual rights for all to ensure a dignified life in old age, including those with justified career breaks – mainly women – to take account of caring responsibilities or other issues that may develop in later life;

  • Develop innovative tools to define and preserve decent standards of living and dignity for the most vulnerable older persons, for instance national reference budgets for an adequate minimum income;

  • Increase public investment in care services for older persons and consider its positive role as a support to employment (as are childcare provisions) and not merely as a cost to the public budget;

Promote a comprehensive approach to rights of older people across national, European and International level

Older people’s rights are gaining momentum as there is an ongoing international debate on how to improve their protection on the ground. United Nations and other international organisations, including the Council of Europe and the European Union have elaborated human rights documents and established bodies and processes to monitor their implementation by national governments. AGE Members strongly welcome these developments and consider that an improved coordination of the existing provisions is necessary.

According to the Treaty of Lisbon, the EU is supposed to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights. When this happens, the EU will fall under the scrutiny of the European Court of Human Rights. AGE Members wish to see progress in EU-Council of Europe talks in order to make this happen.

The EU is in the unique position of helping civil society to analyse how existing human rights instruments apply to older people and to improve their implementation on the ground. Such an analysis will also contribute to the debate on the added value of a future convention on the rights of older persons.

While we acknowledge the need for a new binding instrument to highlight the specific barriers that older people face in respect of their human rights, we are conscious that such a convention cannot solve every problem. In order to have a real impact, it will have to be accompanied by action at different levels. This is why AGE calls for further engagement and actions at the EU level, building on the outcomes from the current UN debate on the rights of older people, in particular to:

  • Include an action on the rights of older people in the EC’s work priorities across all policy areas, in order to monitor the application of article 25 and promote the rights of older people in policy implementation and in view of informing the upcoming mid-term review of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) in 2017;

  • Improve policy coherence and strengthen the consistency of EU’s internal and external human rights policy in line with the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy;

  • Adopt a positive stand in the UN Open Ended Working Group on Ageing, which is a unique forum to discuss and plan concrete action to advance the rights for older people on the ground;

  • Build political support for a United Nations convention on the rights of older persons through multi-stakeholder consultation;

  • Ensure that EU’s position in the UN Open Ended Working Group is informed by the views of older people;

  • Coordinate input by EU Member states to contribute to the work of the UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons Raise public awareness of the Council of Europe recommendation as a tool to promote older people’s rights transversally across in all areas;

  • Ensure that EU’s implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is undertaken in consultation with organisations of older persons, taking due account of the specific challenges faced by older people with disabilities.

Develop a silver economy which will enhance older people’s rights and their contribution to society

Ageing population not only poses challenges for preserving universality and adequacy of social protection systems; it also provides societies with the economic, social and cultural potential of older persons. A silver economy can also stimulate national economies. However, the silver economy should not only be a way of promoting growth and prosperity but also of creating a just and equal society for all ages.

As leaders of ageing populations, AGE members call for the silver economy to support the concept of age-friendly environments, which enables people to remain healthy, independent and autonomous long into their old age and thus covers a wide range of areas from transport to social participation. Ultimately, age-friendly environments secure older persons’ fundamental rights.

The emerging EU silver economy strategy as announced by the European Commission2 is a first positive step towards such a holistic approach and should lead to better coordination of EU policies and initiatives led by different Directorate Generals. The EU strategy must cover new market opportunities arising from public and consumer expenditure related to the rights, needs and demands of the growing population aged 50 and over.

In order to make the silver economy both a vector of economic growth and a support tool for older people’s empowerment to participate in society, AGE issues a call to:

  • Create a positive image of age and move beyond stereotypes, recognising the diversity across different age population groups;

  • Support the engagement of all older people as co-producers and beneficiaries of the silver economy at all levels including strategic policy making and final implementation;

  • Adopt EU and national strategies on demographic change, with a strong emphasis on the potential of the silver economy and its spill-over effect onto wider strategies for economic growth, for example by stimulating innovation investments and solutions for age-friendly housing and smart living;

  • Mainstream the creation of age-friendly environments into the development of the silver economy to support longer healthy and independent life years

  • Support the Covenant on Demographic Change to mobilise all relevant actors in favour of initiatives which seize the potential of the ageing population, while providing necessary conditions for equal participation in society for older people.

1 The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (2010/C 83/02), Art. 25 “The Union recognises and respects the rights of the elderly to lead a life of dignity and independence and to participate in social and cultural life.”