Older persons among the poorest in the world

For those in midlife and beyond, ageing is often linked with poverty and income insecurity. Estimations point to as many as 80 per cent of older people not covered by social security, suggesting that a disturbing number of around 607 million people aged 60 or older lack income security. Given that women are less likely than men to have contributed to formal pension schemes, a majority of these millions of individuals are older women.

Chronic poverty in old age impacts on a number of human rights and is present in both developed and developing economies. Oftentimes, since older persons are the main providers for the household, grandchildren and other members of the family are also affected.

As noted by the Secretary-General in his first report (PDF) to focus on the human rights situation of older persons, “the single most pressing human rights challenge for older persons is poverty. Homelessness, malnutrition, unattended chronic diseases, lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation, unaffordable medicines and treatment, and income insecurity are just a few of the most critical human rights issues that a large number of older persons confront on a daily basis”.
The Commission on Social Development will hold its fiftieth session with a focus on poverty eradication from 1 to 10 February 2012 in New York.

The Commission will consider preliminary findings of the second review and appraisal of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, 2002. Although eradication of old-age poverty is at the core of this plan, data shows that it continues to be largely ignored and seldom addressed.

Targeted actions to enhance the protection of all human rights for older persons are essential and can wait no longer. Human rights add quality and inclusiveness to policy efforts towards ensuring a life of dignity for older men and women. Principles such as non-discrimination, universality of access to services, facilities and goods, and independent accountability mechanisms are essential complements to development programs.

As the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights highlighted in her 2010 report, social protection systems play a critical role in reducing extreme poverty and contributing to the realization of human rights of older persons. In particular, the report focuses on the relevance of the human rights based approach to social pensions.

For instance, social pensions can take the shape of cash benefits received by persons above a given age that do not require prior compulsory contributions from beneficiaries, employers or the State. Social pensions are an important dimension of social security systems. Today, many people worldwide work outside the formal employment sector and traditional informal support systems for older people are changing under the pressure of increased longevity, widespread poverty, the impact of HIV/AIDS and migration. Contributory pension schemes (e.g. employment-based pensions) only reach a minority of all older persons.

In August 2012, the Open-Ended Working Group on strengthening the protection of the human rights of older persons will hold its third working session to continue the consideration of the international human rights framework, identify gaps in the protection of older persons, and suggest ways to address any such gaps.

The working group was established by the General Assembly in December 2010 for the purpose of strengthening the protection of the human rights of older persons. It is open to all UN Member States and welcomes contributions from UN System organizations and human rights experts, intergovernmental organizations and relevant non-governmental organizations.

3 February 2012

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