UN Expert calls for human rights action for older persons

12 March 2020.

While commending New Zealand Government for its commitment and initiatives to improve the situation of older persons, a UN expert concluded her visit to the country by calling for human rights action for older persons.

“I welcome the new comprehensive strategy entitled ‘Better Later Life – He Oranga Kaumātua 2019 to 2034’ and I encourage the Government to make its pledge a reality. Putting into practice a holistic human rights approach for older persons goes far beyond the allocation of resources,” said Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons.

“I commend the Government for the Superannuation - a universal income support paid to all older persons meeting basic residency requirements. But I note the large group of older persons who have little or no additional income apart from it. This makes them very vulnerable to any changes in policy or economic circumstances.

“With declining home ownership rates, the number of older persons facing material hardship will increase. I encourage the Government to start to reinvest in affordable housing to address the growing housing needs of older persons,” she said.

“As the proportion of older persons in need of long-term care will continue to grow, I understand that a doubling of overall long-term care costs by 2050 is projected. An important gap of long-term care workers will arise unless the Government adopts substantial measures,” Kornfeld-Matte said.

“The Government must also 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. It is not acceptable that Maori and Pasifika have shorter life expectancy and higher disability rates in general,” she stressed.

The UN expert welcomed the dedicated institutional structures such as the Minister of Seniors and the Office for Seniors. “Moreover, I would suggest establishing an independent national commissioner on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons at the New Zealand Human Rights Commission.”

The Independent Expert noted that rates of family and sexual violence are of major concern. “While the Government has taken important steps to improve the situation, such as the adoption the Family Violence Bill, the continued prevalence of violence against older persons indicates that normative action is not enough,” she said.

“I also noted that ageist rhetoric portraying older persons as burden is pervasive and contributes to negative attitudes towards them. I strongly caution against framing the discussion of social inequality as a generational divide.

“The ability to make a mind shift requires awareness, acknowledgment and commitment to protect all rights of all older persons and to prioritize their cause,” the UN expert said.

The UN Expert's final report will be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2020