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Ban Ki-moon's Synthesis Report through an ageing lens

18 Dec 2014

A secure income is crucial to older people. (c) Antonio OlmosSince the UN Secretary General's long-awaited synthesis report on the post-2015 agenda came out last week an array of responses have been published. 

So far though, no one has analysed the report through an ageing lens; one that focuses on that fact that, by 2030 there will be more people in the world over the age of 60 than under the age of 10.

So let's look at how the Secretary General's report is responding to this unprecedented demographic transition:

Population recognised as key trend, but...

Overall, population ageing is recognised as a key demographic trend that provides challenges and opportunities. This is indeed positive. But it lacks any reference to the speed and global nature of ageing, which hides the trend's urgency and priority.

Furthermore, it is regrettable that the report is dominated by a "vulnerable groups" approach that does not respond to the intersecting and accumulated vulnerabilities that happen over the course of a human's life.

What is needed is a global framework that addresses the needs and builds the resilience of individuals across their life courses. The "vulnerable groups" approach not only perpetuates gaps and creates policy silos and unhealthy competition between different groups; but is also inefficient and costly and does not take forward the aim of integration and coordination.

To leave no one behind, the framework must be for all people of all ages and abilities. It must therefore in its vision promote intergenerational justice and solidarity to ensure equality across the life course and universal approaches.

Longer healthier lives are a must!

The synthesis report recognises the importance of respecting the 17 goals but suggests a way in which these could be brought together in a framework that has six elements: People, Dignity, Prosperity, Justice, Partnership and Planet.

The "People" dimension of the six essential elements for delivering the SDGs unfortunately does not specify people of all ages. This dimension focuses on human development and specifically on health and education. Although the health goal continues to include persons of all ages - which is indeed very positive - there is no reference to ageing.

It is positive to see that longer life expectancy is noted as a triumph of development, but we know that longevity is not always accompanied by the extension of healthy life - we live longer but not necessarily in good health! The extension of healthy life expectancy is something to strive for.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) disproportionately affect people in older age, and limit that extension of healthy life expectancy. The ambition to reduce the burden of NCDs is critical to ensuring that older people can live healthier, more productive lives.

Participation and prosperity apply to older people too

The UN Secretary General's theme of dignity is relevant to older people in so many ways; in relation to income inequality and inequality of opportunity, there was a clear indication of the importance of removing barriers to ensure their full participation.

Under the key element of Prosperity, older people are included along with other specific groups that should have access to decent work, social protection and financial services to ensure inclusive economic prosperity and success.

Older people report time and again that their income is crucial to their dignity, and we are pleased to see their voices recognised.

Not strong enough on gender

The synthesis report certainly could be stronger on gender as expressed by many of our (disappointed) gender advocate colleagues over the past weeks. Indeed, the report when referring to gender is moving back to a vulnerable groups approach (as noted above).

We will be working closely with women's groups in the forthcoming intergovernmental process to make sure all women, including older women - who often experience discrimination both on the basis of their gender and their age - are adequately included in the post-2015 framework.

Human rights and universality

It is noticeable and important that the free active and meaningful engagement of civil society reflecting the voice of older people is highlighted under the key element of Justice.

The Partnership element of the framework includes all the good principles of universality, integration of human and development rights and the environment, collaboration, private public partnerships, accountability and transparency.

We must make sure that older people are present and vocal in national regional and global actions towards this goal.

Age-inclusive data collection

The important principle that no targets will be met unless they are met by people of different genders and ages is included with many references to the need to disaggregate data by age and ensure key data gaps are filled.

This reflects a direction of the sustainable development agenda to leave no one behind and be inclusive of people of all ages including older people.

Data disaggregation by age must include not just children and people up to age 49, as many current development surveys do.

What next?

Overall, this report is a very good reference document as the campaign to secure an age friendly post-2015 framework continues towards September 2015, when UN Member States will agree new Sustainable Development Goals.

The next phase of negotiations kicks off in earnest in January with meetings scheduled each month.

There is much to do therefore to ensure that the voices of older people are loud and clear and governments know how to ensure that no older person will be left behind by the framework.

Want to know more?

Your comments

Lipi Rahman

Hi Anders, Thank you for posting this report.

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Anders Hylander
Job title: Network Comms Officer

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.