Editing Office - Europe
This focus explores the slow but inexorable shift from thinking about old age in terms of ‘deficits’ that create ‘needs’ to a more comprehensive one encompassing a ‘rights-based’ approach towards ageing. This gradually evolving paradigm shift strives to respect the fundamental right to equal treatment of all individuals, regardless of age – without neglecting protecting and providing support to those who need it. A human rights approach does not contradict the reality of age-specific needs; on the contrary, a rights-based approach enables one to better meet needs, as required, while framing them in a human rights-based narrative. All individuals have an inherent right to human dignity, which is inviolable and must be protected and respected. Fundamental rights, whether civil and political or social and economic, as enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and all other international human rights instruments, do not carry an expiry date. Rights do not change as we grow old, and their full respect on equal terms is an essential precondition for living a dignified life, defined by choice and control, autonomy and participation, whatever one’s age. In modern societies, however, ‘old’ age has come to bear negative connotations and ‘old people’ are often thought of as a burden, especially those who need the support of social protection systems.
Ageing appears more in public discourse in connection to a progressive loss of physical and mental capabilities than to positive aspects, such as the accumulation of experience. This understanding of ageing is confirmed by policy responses focusing primarily on the physical or mental ‘deficits’ individuals accumulate as they age and on how their ‘needs’ should be met by state and society, neglecting older people’s contribution to society. In addition to broader negative attitudes towards ageing affecting day-to-day experiences of older people, there is evidence of discriminatory practices, to which older people might be more exposed. These range from discrimination when looking for a job to structurally embedded ageist practices.
The latter include discriminatory age limits in accessing goods and services, as well as low policy attention to issues such as exposure to poverty and the increased risk of violence and abuse for those in care. The 2015 Eurobarometer survey on discrimination shows that discrimination or harassment because of old age is the most frequently mentioned type of discrimination: 42 % of Europeans perceive discrimination due to old age (being over 55 years old) as “very” or “fairly” widespread in their country