Delivered at the press conference, held at 14:30h local time on Thursday, 12 March 2020 at UNICEF New Zealand, Level 1, PSA House, 11 Aurora Terrace, Wellington 6011, at the end of her official country visit to share her preliminary findings with the media.
Wellington, 12 March 2020
Members of the Press and Media Representatives,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In my capacity as United Nations Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, I conclude today my official visit to New Zealand that took place from 2 to 12 March 2020. This is also my last country visit as my mandate comes to an end in the coming months.
I am an independent expert who reports to the United Nations Human Rights Council and the General Assembly, and advises on progress, opportunities and challenges encountered in the realization of the human rights of older persons worldwide.
We, independent experts are part of the mechanisms of Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council, appointed by the Human Rights Council to assess, to the extent possible, and report back to the UN Human Rights Council. This independent, impartial position is honorary and I am not a UN staff member nor paid for my work.
I would like to begin by expressing my sincere gratitude to the Government of New Zealand for accepting my request to visit its country to assess, in a spirit of dialogue and cooperation, the level of enjoyment of all human rights by all older persons, the opportunities and existing necessities and challenges; and for the cooperation extended to me prior to and throughout the visit.
Please allow me to seize this opportunity to sincerely thank also the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and particularly the Minister and the Office for Seniors, the New Zealand Human Rights Commission as well as the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva for their considerable efforts in organizing this visit as well as for all the tremendous support I enjoyed in order to ensure the success of my mission.
During my visit, I was privileged enough to meet twice with the Minister of Seniors and with the Minister of Social Development as well as with relevant Independent Crown Entity representatives and Commissioners, various New Zealand Human Rights Commissioners and the Chief Human Rights Commissioner. I also met with representatives from numerous ministries, regional and local government authorities, including representatives from civil society organizations, non-governmental social welfare organisations, representatives of the academia and universities, private companies/businesses, social workers and volunteers working with older persons and I also met with older persons themselves and the organisations representing them in Wellington, Auckland, Hamilton, Christchurch and Timaru.
I have also visited a good number of old age homes, care centers and related institutions, and met with the community and representatives of the local authority.
Please allow me to convey my deep appreciation to all who took the time to meet with me and for the consistent warm welcome extended to me. I was so touched by the incredible warmth of your reception and your generosity I experienced here in New Zealand.
I am here to share with you today some preliminary and I must say very provisional remarks on some of the issues that, along with others, will be explored in more detail in my comprehensive country visit report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, which will be submitted in September 2020.
I would like to start with a few preliminary remarks with regard to my mandate -the human rights of older persons. My mandate looks at the reality of whether or not older persons can actual exercise all their human rights. This is an all-encompassing approach that cuts across several sectors and issues as stipulated in my mandate beyond mere non-discrimination. So, there are a number of issues and themes, I regularly look at such as care and long-term care, the social protection floor, adequate standard of living, including poverty alleviation measures, lifelong learning or protection from discrimination; violence, maltreatment and abuse. That’s why I analyse the existing legislative, administrative and policy framework and its practice in this regard and assesses whether the basic binding minimum human rights standards are actually available for all older persons, regardless of whether they belong to specific groups such as older women, indigenous peoples, and persons with disabilities or older refugees or migrants.
The key features of the human rights based approach is that the global minimum rights standards are translated by each Member State into its domestic laws, but equally if not more importantly also into its internal policies, programmes and practices – which I summarize always by referring to ‘human rights implementation’, meaning ‘putting into practice’ the holistic policy approach for older persons in accordance with the full spectrum of human rights. This is an essential question which goes far beyond resources.
Henceforth, I deplore a welfare approach that creates dependency settings – a fortiori for older persons - or as I have often heard - here and elsewhere- “a culture of entitlements”. Consequently, I always strongly urge to adopt promptly, a comprehensive human rights based approach as it imposes the creation of conditions that contributes to enable, empower and value people to realize all their rights in dignity.
The ensuing preliminary observations neither reflect all the issues presented to me, nor all the initiatives undertaken by the Government of New Zealand.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me start with the demographic data and figures:
Since 1981, the number of persons aged 65 years and over has nearly doubled and this trend is expected to continue.
In 2015 already 20.3% of New Zealanders were aged 60 years or above. By 2030 estimates suggests that 27% of the population will be aged 60 years and above and 29.4% by 2050 that is almost one third of the total population or just around 1.5 million people.
Estimates also suggests that by 2034 almost a quarter of the total population - around 1.2 million people will be aged 65 and over, including 370,000 aged over 80 years and just over a fifth of the total population, nearly 180,000 older persons will be aged 85 years and older.
These figures in conjunction with low fertility rates and slowing population growth, although in line with the global demographic trend of an essential age-structural change, require obviously urgent adequate action now to meet the challenges of this fundamental change.
Please let me add also, the ability to make a mind shift requires awareness, acknowledgment and commitment to protect the rights of all older persons and to address their concerns and prioritize their cause now.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is very commendable that the Government has adopted the new comprehensive strategy entitled ‘Better Later Life – He Oranga Kaumātua 2019 to 2034’, which is guided by the principles of ‘Te Tiriti o Waitangi’, the founding document of New Zealand. This strategy I understand is based on the outcomes of a national participatory consultation and links to existing dedicated policies on older persons such as the Health Ageing Strategy of 2016, the New Zealand Disability Strategy 2016, the New Zealand Carers’ Strategy 2008 and its Strategy Action Plan 2019-2023. This policy resonates with human rights and its implementation can be conducted in a comprehensive human rights complaint way.
However, I see a lack of commitment to the implementation of this strategy, if no budget is attached to it. I call upon the Government to attach a budget to this strategy and encourage to formulate and determine the objectives and aims to be attained within a set period of time as stated in the strategy.
It seems to me that my visit and the dialogue with the Government is very timely, as this is an opportunity for me to emphasize that the actual implementation of this strategy is key which requires a dedicated budget and resources allowing for the planning of activities. I also refer to the existing international human rights framework, notably the United Nations principles on the right of older persons alongside the core human rights instruments should guide the Government’s efforts in this regard. As mentioned before, a human rights-based approach goes beyond the allocation of resources.
I welcome the dedicated institutional structures such as the Minister of Seniors and the Office for Seniors. This is important to ensure that an older person’s centred approach is mainstreamed into all activities. However, I have to recommend the allocation of a budget and adequate resources to the Minister of Seniors and its office. I was surprised to learn that no budget or resources are allocated to allow for implementation.
Moreover, I would suggest to consider the establishment of an independent national commissioner on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons at the New Zealand Human Rights Commission. Rather than creating a completely new institutional body, this position could be settled at the existing New Zealand National Human Rights Commission to serve as an independent instance for older persons.
Also, particular focus has to be put on the needs of the most ostracized and the vulnerable of the vulnerable – like older women in rural areas, older persons with disabilities, those with dementia and other medical conditions. A differentiated approach targeting vulnerable people would also be useful in conjunction with a recognition of the heterogeneity of the old age group. In this context, I think that also the collection of disaggregated date can be further improved.
Another prerequisite for efficient policy design is the availability of data and analysis. I was pleased to learn that a structured approach to the collection of disaggregated data and its use is being implemented through the New Zealand “interRAI data”. In this context, I would encourage comprehensive coverage and to further include human rights indicators that can server to identify specific shortfalls in the exercise of rights by older persons.
Data used in assessments should not only be disaggregated by age but also ensure that age cohorts reflect the heterogeneous nature of the older population – in particular the Maori and Pasifika - to allow for a differentiation of older and very old persons, who have different needs and capacities. Age cohorts should also be granular enough to allow taking into account the relativity of the notions of age, taking into consideration the respective life-course context. Also, I would like to stress that age is a social construct and that historical or numerical age alone without considering numerous economic, social and cultural factors will fall short on accuracy.
I understand a major reform of the public service is now before Parliament. The reform has positive features. Unfortunately, the reform does not require the public service to take into account New Zealand’s national and international human rights commitments. I recommend the Bill is amended to require the public service to take into account NZ’s national and international human rights commitments, including those of older persons.
Moreover, while I note the existing framework for dementia care, I would recommend to establish strategic policy on Alzheimer diseases, but also other mental conditions such as depression, Parkinson etc. The prevalence of these conditions is also important to assess, analyse and the collection of disaggregated data essential. It will contribute to an improved strategic planning and preparation of the care and health system, notably in preparing for the challenges of long-term care and other related chronic diseases. Also, dementia care must better consider the needs of Māori and other communities and ethnicities.
While there has been a growing recognition for the shift from a medical model of care for older persons with dementia, which does not maximise the person’s wellbeing and independence, there is still a long way to go to ensure a more integrated approach of biopsychosocial cultural interventions for dementia.
Finally, with regard to New Zealand’s social security system, let share with you that I always do recommend an unqualified universal non-contributory pension for the most vulnerable. I therefore commend the Government for the Superannuation and call not to change this.
I note that there is a very large group of older persons however, around 60 per cent, who have little or no additional income apart from the Superannuation. This makes them very vulnerable to any changes in policy or economic circumstances. Superannuation needs to be actually adequate to lift older people out of poverty, particularly for those who can not opt in the KiwiSaver, a voluntary work-based savings scheme. I encourage the government to further consolidate the progress achieved so far and to address issues of adequacy, equality, portability and sustainability in a more systemic manner.
Superannuation moreover is based on the assumption of mortgage-free home ownership for older persons. With the ongoing changes of tenure patterns, the number of older persons facing material hardship will increase and many of them will be in rent.
Private rentals are unaffordable for older persons who rely on Superannuation. I encourage the government to starts to reinvest in affordable housing to address the growing housing needs of older persons, ensuring that affordable and adequate housing options are available.
It is not acceptable that Maori and Pasifika have shorter life expectancy and higher disability rates in general. I encourage the Government to intensify its efforts to address what seem to be structural biases in the health care system and to ensure that the needs of Maori and Pasifika are adequately integrated in health and care policies.
As ageing gathers pace, there will be an ever growing proportion of older persons in need of long-term care. I understand that a doubling of overall long-term care costs by 2050 is projected. I also note the important gap of long-term care workers that will arise, unless the Government adopts substantial measures. This becomes more pressing as the number of older Māori needing care could increase by more than 200 per cent by 2026.
The Government recognizes that rates of family and sexual violence are of major concern. Older persons in New Zealand are also susceptible to financial abuse. Violence, abuse and maltreatment disproportionately affect some segments of the population, notably Maori and women. I commend the government for recognizing existing challenges and for measures taken to address violence, abuse, maltreatment and neglect of older persons, such as the adoption the Family Violence Bill.
Low levels of reporting are of concern and I encourage the government to continue its efforts to raise awareness, and sensitize all segments of the population. This can take the form of training of judges, lawyers and prosecutors, which is essential to ensure that investigation of cases of domestic violence proceeds to signal to the community that violence and abuse against older persons are serious crimes and will be treated as such.
The continued prevalence of older persons’ abuse indicates that normative action is not enough and that further measures and mechanisms are required to detect, report and prevent all forms of abuse of older persons in institutional care and in family settings. Protocols and processes are usually needed to assist individuals, families, carers in institutional settings and community groups to understand the issues surrounding abuse of older persons, to recognize individuals who are at risk and to respond when appropriate. Caregivers in domestic and institutional settings need to be further sensitized and trained on how to prevent and detect violence, abuse, maltreatment and neglect against older persons.
I also noted that ageist rhetoric portraying older persons as burden is pervasive and contributes to negative attitudes to ageing and older persons, and I caution against framing the discussion of social inequality as a generational divide.
I would like to acknowledge the increasing awareness on the human rights of older persons and the tremendous efforts of United Nations agencies and international cooperation organizations in this area. I strongly encourage the Government of New Zealand to prioritize inclusiveness of older persons and age-sensitive to mainstream in all of their governmental strategies and programmes. Moreover, I invited the Government to actively support the UN efforts to establish a dedicated instrument on the human rights of older persons at the global UN-level in line with the implementation of the SDGs that should consider the realization of the rights of older persons in a cross-cutting and systemic manner, so as to truly ensure that no one is left behind.
As I have observed at the beginning, my remarks today are of a preliminary nature and do certainly not cover all issues in a comprehensive manner. I will further analyse the information received in connection with my visit and elaborate on my findings in my report to the UN Human Rights Council to be submitted in September 2020.