A coordinated EU policy on aging

COVID-19 has had serious adverse consequences on older people, particularly those living with underlying conditions, explains Maciej Kucharczyk.
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By Maciej Kucharczyk

Maciej Kucharczyk is the Secretary-General of AGE Platform Europe

09 Oct 2020

The reports and figures speak for themselves: COVID-19 has had serious adverse consequences, particularly for older people living with underlying conditions. But beyond the health risks specific to everyone, our pre-existing policies and emergency responses to the pandemic have had a significant impact on those who were left “at risk”.

Past policy choices put many older people in dangerous, even fatal situations during the pandemic. It has revealed the little consideration for older people, the lack of preparedness of our societies for old age and of our health and care systems to support those who need it later in life.

The de-prioritisation of social care and the resulting lack of investment in the sector has been a major contributor to the large numbers of deaths among older people. In many European countries, half of the deaths related to COVID-19 occurred in care homes, where residents and care workers lacked necessary diagnostic and medical care, adequate protective measures and equipment. In the most dramatic cases, older people living in care homes were abandoned.

The Coronavirus crisis has also raised ethical and moral questions about our individual and collective responsibility to provide the highest possible level of health for all. These questions now need to be answered.

This is why AGE Platform Europe together with the European Federation of Public Service Unions and the European Disability Forum are now calling on the European Parliament to launch an investigation into the management of the pandemic in long-term care facilities.

Beyond the care sector, the crisis revealed troubling violations of our rights: elder abuse rose, people in need of care were left unattended and hate speech towards older people spread across the media.

The pandemic abruptly revealed the pervasive ageism of our societies and its consequences on our rights to life, health, family and participation in society. The European Commission will soon publish its Green Paper on Ageing. The forthcoming document responds to a longstanding call by AGE for a coordinated EU policy on ageing.

All European countries are facing a similar evolution of their demographic structure and the recent pandemic is increasing tensions between generations. It is time to develop responses that ensure all generations are equally valued and respected.

“The European Commission’s Green Paper on Ageing must address the lifelong social and economic inequalities that impact the way we age and live our later life”

Based on human rights and social justice, the Commission’s Green Paper on Ageing must address the lifelong social and economic inequalities that impact the way we age and live our later life.

Improving the quality and a­ffordability of long-term care, strengthening support for independent living, creating age-friendly environments, ensuring adequate incomes for older people and combating social exclusion, poverty and isolation are all interrelated issues that require action at European and national levels.

The pandemic has been another stark revelation of the gap between our human rights discourses and aspirations on the one hand and the harsh realities of practice on the other. We urgently need policies that will enable us to reconcile our visions and practices. Today’s and future generations deserve that we do our utmost to ensure that longer lives are filled with dignity and fulfilment. This is what we stand for.