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“Extreme poverty around the corner for older persons everywhere,” warns UN Independent Expert

GENEVA (4 June 2010 ) – “Societies are abandoning traditional care practices for older persons, who are left stranded in rapidly increasing numbers,” warned UN Independent Expert Magdalena Sepúlveda during the presentation of her report on human rights and extreme poverty* to the Human Rights Council. “Nowadays, investment in social pensions is crucial to protect the rights of the elderly.”

“Conventional family structures cannot cope with the pace at which the world population is ageing without more support from States,” Ms. Sepúlveda said, noting that the elderly population is one of the fastest growing segments of society – the number of persons over 60 is likely to double by 2050. “What is not changing is that older persons leave or are pushed out of the workforce, that people become frailer as they age and that their need for health care services increases. It is essential that States take older persons into account during policy-making.”

“Traditionally, States have approached the social protection of elderly populations through contributory insurance schemes. Yet, this strategy failed as only one in five persons today is protected by social security”, explained the expert. “Setting up universal non-contributory old-age pensions is the most appropriate measure that States need to take in order to respect the rights of older persons.”

“Universal pensions play a key role in protecting older persons against poverty, and in many countries they contribute to the welfare of entire families, especially children,” the UN Independent Expert said.

Women, who live longer than men worldwide, are all the more vulnerable because “they are more likely to outlive their partners and yet less likely to receive a pension that allows them to live a dignified life,” added Ms Sepúlveda. “Non-contributory pensions are the most efficient way of ensuring protection for older women and compensating them for their years of unpaid or inadequately paid work.”

“Happily, it is also clear that States can afford basic universal pensions, despite a common myth to the contrary,” said Ms Sepúlveda, stressing that there are success stories in all regions including developing countries, such as Bolivia, East Timor, Namibia and Nepal.

In her report, Ms Sepúlveda makes recommendations to States on ways to upgrade their social protection systems while protecting the rights of older persons including against poverty. States must prioritize the creation of universal pensions to ensure everyone's access to social security; they must take special measures for women, and ensure participation, transparency and accountability.

Magdalena Sepúlveda is the Independent Expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty since May 2008. She is a Chilean lawyer currently working as Research Director at the International Council on Human Rights Policy in Geneva.

(*) See the full report: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/14session/A.HRC.14.31_en.pdf