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New Study: Against Ageism and towards active social citizenship for older persons

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Professor Gerald Quinn, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, together with Professor Israel Doron have conducted a study (publ. Department of the European Social Charter Directorate General Human Rights and Rule of Law Council of Europe – Strasbourg) to explain the critical role of the European Social Charter in advancing and protecting the rights of older persons in Europe. It is designed to be used by civil society groups of older persons and other organisations to enable them to engage effectively with the machinery of the Charter and to use its jurisprudence in the development of domestic advocacy strategies for reform. It provides guidance to policy makers as they open a new policy on the rights of older persons.

For EASPD, it is helpful to better understand the role of support services in helping older persons with disabilities in achieving their rights, in line with the European Social Charter.

The European Social Charter was the first legally binding international instrument in the world to make explicit provision for the social rights of older persons. The Charter has adopted an approach which included two distinct novel elements which referred to the rights of older persons living in institutions, these focused on:

  1. Meaningful participation in society and,
  2. Independence and life choices in old age.
  3. The text of Article 30 reads:
  4. Article 30 – The right to protection against poverty and social exclusion.
  5. With a view to ensuring the effective exercise of the right to protection against
  6. poverty and social exclusion, the Parties undertake:
  7. a. To take measures within the framework of an overall and coordinated
  8. approach to promote the effective access of persons who live or risk living
  9. in a situation of social exclusion or poverty, as well as their families, to, in
  10. particular, employment, housing, training, education, culture and social
  11. and medical assistance,
  12. b. to review these measures with a view to their adaptation if necessary.
  13. Implicit in Article 30 is the view that poverty can lead to social exclusion. Social
  14. exclusion is a broader term. It has been explained by the UN as a “multidimensional
  15. phenomenon not limited to material deprivation: poverty is an important dimension
  16. of exclusion, albeit only one dimension. Accordingly, social inclusion processes
  17. involve more than improving access to economic resources.” In turn, social inclusion is
  18. defined by the UN as “the process of improving the terms of participation in society,
  19. particularly for people who are disadvantaged, through enhancing opportunities,
  20. access to resources, voice and respect for rights.”
  21. What is interesting is the overlap of emphasis in this definition of social inclusion
  22. with the implicit idea of active social citizenship embedded in the jurisprudence of
  23. the European Committee of Social Rights under Article E. In assessing the adequacy
  24. of social systems, the European Committee of Social Rights takes into account the
  25. UN’s Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights (2012). Interestingly,
  26. one of the guiding principles in the UN Guidelines is the “Agency and autonomy
  27. of persons living in extreme poverty”.The European Committee of Social Rights has developed a sophisticated theory of equality and non-discrimination with direct implications for older persons. It has developed a theory of equality including aspects of inclusion, legal capacity, and active social citizenship.

The following conclusions can be drawn from the analysis of this study:

  1. The ageing of Europe is a major social opportunity and a challenge.
  2. The European Social Charter should reflect and be attentive to global developments in the human rights of older persons.
  3. Article 23 has become an important instrument to promote the social rights of older persons and to broaden their material scope especially in ensuring full participation in society and protecting their independence.
  4. The committee has considered new dimensions such as:
    1. The importance of anti-discrimination and framework legislation beyond the narrow framework of employment law.
    1. The central role of legal capacity and the need for supportive decision-making mechanisms to expand legal capacity.
    1. The support of informal and family based elder care as an instrument to preserve and promote the social rights of older persons.
  5. Dealing with residual ageism as the European Social Charter has always been at the forefront in adopting a rights-based perspective on age.

Note: AGE Platform Europe, 2021. Chapter 7, covers the main provision in the Revised European Social Charter (Article 23) dealing with the right of elderly persons to social protection. It embodies and exemplifies a new working philosophy in the Charter based on autonomy, inclusion and participation and against ageism in social policy. It, along with Article E, should be used to inform the rest of the Charter as it applies to older persons. Pretty much all the provisions of the Charter have application and reach to the issues that affect older persons. In this chapter, we select certain rights and provisions in the Charter for further analysis because they visibly touch on many salient issues with regard to the rights of older persons. This does not mean that the remaining provisions of the Charter are not relevant. They should, of course, also be consulted when they touch on the lives of older persons. Even when these provisions are relevant to the issues at hand, circumspection is always needed to ensure that the relevant State has in fact opted in to the relevant provision (see Chapter 4 on the nature of the Charter treaty system).

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