UN must respond to UN expert’s statement on ‘unacceptable’ discrimination of older people in the light of COVID-19


COVID-19 is exposing the ageism, age discrimination and denial of rights older people face in their everyday lives

In response to the statement by the UN’s Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons today, Bridget Sleap, HelpAge’s Senior Rights Policy Advisor said:

“We applaud the UN Independent Expert on older persons for calling out the unacceptable ageism and age discrimination that older people are being subjected to in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We now hope that UN bodies will provide greater leadership and guidance to ensure that countries around the world stop this happening.

Older people’s rights are under threat as lockdown, self-isolation and ‘social distancing’ policies isolate those who are already isolated and digitally excluded.  They have been subjected to discriminatory age-based self-isolation policies and no-visitor policies in care homes that impose more severe restrictions on their rights than on other people.

And as the UN Independent Expert points out, any suggestions that the allocation of scarce medical resources be based on age rather than medical need, scientific evidence and ethical principles are completely unethical and discriminatory.

We welcome the Independent Expert’s call for triage guidelines to be developed to ensure everyone has equal access to the life-saving treatment they need. And we hope this happens as soon as possible.

Older people have the same rights as everyone else. But too often they remain invisible or ignored. This has the potential to do great harm, increasing the likelihood that older people will not be included in government, humanitarian and other responses to the pandemic.

The impact of this on older people as the pandemic spreads across low- and middle- income countries cannot be under-estimated. COVID-19 is exposing the ageism, age discrimination and denial of rights older people face in their everyday lives. The full protection of their rights is essential both in the response to COVID-19 and once the pandemic is over. We hope that the UN Independent Expert’s words are fully heeded and a new UN convention to protect older people’s rights is developed as soon as possible.”

Examples cited by HelpAge International include:

  • Older people’s rights have been undermined including the rights to lead dignified, autonomous and independent lives, enjoy an adequate standard of living, receive social protection, participate fully in society, access  information and enjoy a private and family life
  • Equal access to health care is being denied. Some have even been found dead in care homes, not having been taken to hospital to access the healthcare they need.
  • Care and support services for those who need them in their own homes and communities have been disrupted, including under emergency measures that suspend assessments of their care and support requirements.
  • Emergency measures may be necessary to slow down or contain the spread of COVID-19 and may curtail some of our rights but these measures must:

    • have a clearly defined time limit
    • be regularly reviewed, based on medical and scientific evidence
    • be proportionate to the scale of the emergency and the risk of harm done by the curtailment.
  • Any lowering or removing of regulatory standards must not disproportionately impact older people and put their safety, dignity or health at risk.