Protecting the rights of older people

UN Photo Mark Garten 2

The third working session of the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing for the purpose of strengthening the protection of the human rights of older persons started on Tuesday and placed the issue of age discrimination firmly in the spotlight during the first panel. The Working Group is mandated to consider the existing international rights framework for older persons, to identify possible gaps and how best to address them.

The Working Group began with a panel discussion on discrimination with experts Mr. Charles Radcliffe, Head of Global Issues at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights as moderator, Mr. Alejandro Morlachetti, Professor of Law at the University of La Plata, Argentina, Ms. Louise Richardson, Vice- President AGE Platform Europe and Ms. Susan Ryan, Australia’s Age Discrimination Commissioner.

Outlining the scope of discussion, Mr. Radcliffe said, “The working group at its heart is really an invitation to look at the human rights challenges faced by older people today and think about what can be done to make sure everyone, regardless of their age, can enjoy the same rights on an equal footing. The right to be free of discrimination is a fundamental principle of international human rights law, not just for older people but for people of all ages. States have a legal duty to protect citizens against discrimination”.

The Report of the Secretary-General on the follow-up to the Second World Assembly on Ageing  outlines that all too often older people face numerous types of discrimination surrounding; employment, healthcare, social and financial exclusion, and are often at risk of poverty or living in poverty.

Older people are more likely to face redundancy in tough economic times. They frequently don’t benefit from training opportunities and face severe barriers to re-entry into the workforce, often suffering long periods of unemployment and financial strain.

Healthcare was identified as an area fraught with discriminatory practices. Older people are vulnerable to the steep costs associated with complimentary healthcare insurance, co-payments or lack of health insurance, and in many cases have difficulty accessing health services at all due to age discriminatory practices in the allocation of healthcare. Lack of access or limited knowledge of technology can lead to exclusion. For example, now that so much information on benefits is available online, older people can find this difficult to navigate and miss out on information about key benefits and services. Multiple discrimination was highlighted as a major problem for older persons, be it because of gender, ethnicity, disability or sexual orientation.

Additionally, older people can face financial exclusion through unwillingness on the part of financial institutions to offer them credit and certain financial products. Ms. Richardson said, “When it comes to goods and services there is no binding legislation regarding discrimination. Age Platform Europe has recently demonstrated the persistence of age limits in access to travel insurance, complimentary health insurance, mortgages and bank loans. In many member states older people are charged prohibitively high fees or are denied access to insurance”.

Susan Ryan, Australia’s dedicated Age Commissioner spoke about the Australian experience handling age discrimination. “The Australian government created the role of the Age Commissioner because of demographic changes, the ageing population and the fact that people are living longer in better health. The combination of these factors persuaded the government that there should be specific protections for older people to protect against age discrimination in society and in the workplace particularly”.

The Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing will, in the coming days also discuss issues surrounding autonomy, independent living and health care; life in dignity, social security and access to resources; abuse and violence against older persons; and access to justice.

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