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Friday 1 October is the United Nations International Day of Older Persons. To mark this day, we explore a recent report by the UN which has included our evidence. The report asks whether we need a new international human rights convention to protect, respect and fulfil the rights of older people. 

In March 2021 we submitted evidence to the United Nations Independent Expert on the human rights of older persons’ jointly with Women’s Budget GroupBackto60 and the National Pensioners Convention (Women’s Working Party). The Independent Expert was seeking input for a thematic report on the human rights of older women.  

In our evidence we explored a number of rights-based issues that impacted particularly on the intersection of older women in the UK including: 

  • A higher risk of poverty for female pensioners, particularly those living alone 
  • Research by the Women’s Budget Group illustrating that private pension schemes favour those with continuous full-time employment and high lifetime earnings 
  • The negative impact of the increase on the State Pension age for older women, including on mental and physical health and poverty  
  • Lower healthy life expectancy for older women experiencing deprivation 
  • Unmet needs of older women with regards social care 
  • Impact of negative stereotypes on older women 
  • Older women in care homes during the pandemic, including blanket Do Not Resuscitate plans 
  • Overrepresentation of older women in employment particularly vulnerable to exposure during the pandemic, often without access to adequate Personal Protective Equipment (including in health and social care, education and supermarkets 

The report of the Independent Expert has now been published and is available here and directly references our submission. It covers a whole range of issues impacted upon older women and the enjoyment of their rights across the world, including the issues outlined in our evidence above.  

It is particularly powerful in terms of exploring the accumulated impact of gender inequality over a person’s lifetime, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic,  

“Gender inequality in older age is the result of disadvantages accumulated over the life course and further exacerbated by ageism and age discrimination. As a result, many older women are denied their rights, a situation further aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic with its disproportionate effect on both older persons and women. It is estimated that the impact of the pandemic increased the gender gap by a generation.  This means that women will continue to reach older age in a disadvantaged position unless structural changes are made.” 

This leads to a key recommendation, which accords with the evidence we provided, 

“Undertake gender-responsive pension reforms, notably by enacting non-contributory and universal schemes, repealing discriminatory provisions and practices, introducing adequate contribution credits to compensate for periods of unpaid care work and regularly adjusting benefit levels. Entitlements under non-contributory pensions need to be set high enough to keep older women out of poverty and ensure an adequate standard of living, including in terms of housing;” 

This is particularly important as it illustrates the interconnectedness of rights. For example, the failure to fulfil the right to social security (ICESCR Article 9) can impact upon the enjoyment of other rights, such as that of an adequate standard of living (ICESCR Article 11).  

At the UN level we have specific conventions to protect the rights of a range of groups, including childrenwomendisabled people and migrants. This shines a spotlight on groups who experience particular abuses of their rights because of the group they belong to and in doing so helps us as an international community to seek ways forward to address these issues. As the report highlights, however, there is no specific international convention for the protection for the rights of older people, 

“The Independent Expert reiterates that this may be explained by the lack of a comprehensive and integrated international legal instrument to promote and protect the rights and dignity of older persons.” 

On the International Day of Older Persons we ask: has the time come for an international convention on the rights of older persons? We think the answer, as clearly evidenced in this report, is a resounding yes.  

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