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Austria: UN expert welcomes integration of the "missing voices" of older people in policy-making

German version

VIENNA / GENEVA (30 January 2015) – The UN Independent Expert on the human rights of older persons, Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, today commended the Austrian Government for its commitment and efforts to ensure that older people are able to fully enjoy their human rights.

“Austria has a long tradition of policies and a strong legal framework aimed at promoting and protecting the rights of older people. It would certainly be among my top choices in my old age,” Kornfeld-Matte said at the end of her 10-day official visit to the country.
“This is not to say that Austria does not face any challenges. But I am confident that the authorities are well-prepared to respond to the challenges of the demographic revolution.”

Currently, more than 20 percent of Austria’s population is 65 or above. The figure is forecast to rise to almost 24 percent in 2030.

The independent expert was particularly impressed by the number of studies commissioned by the authorities to assess the situation and needs of older people in the country. “The broad array of topics covered - from the social situation of older persons to the specific needs of older migrants - is indeed exemplary, as is the fact that many of these studies where carried out in collaboration with the academia and research centres,” she added.

The Federal Plan for Older Persons, for example, was adopted in 2012. It is based on scientific analysis and is a cornerstone in Austria’s policy regarding the elderly, to ensure their active involvement and participation in all spheres of life.

“The Federal Plan for Older Persons is a good example of how research can feed into targeted and successful policy planning, design and implementation,” Kornfeld-Matte said.

“Austria has demonstrated how the voices of older people can be successfully integrated into the political decision-making process on matters which might affect their interests,” she added, referring to the Senior Citizens Council (Seniorenrat), the official representative body of older people in Austria, which has the same rights as the legal representative bodies of employees, business people and farmers.

The independent expert noted, however, that discrimination in access to facilities and services remained a concern.

Financial services, such as loans or mortgages, or insurance are often not available to older people or are prohibitively expensive because of the inappropriate use of age as a criterion, including to determining risk.

Around 15 percent of the elderly in Austria are at risk of poverty, with women at a higher risk than men.

“This shows that poverty and social exclusion in old age are also consequences of disadvantages and discrimination suffered in the early stages of life and that measures must be taken long before someone turns 65, as this will, to an extent, determine the resources available in old age,” Kornfeld-Matte said. She noted, on a related issue, that more should be done to discourage early retirement.

Austria was the first country in Europe to introduce universal coverage of a tax-financed long-term care allowance as the main instrument to fund long-term care in 1993. The UN expert welcomed the human-rights based approach to long-term care, notably the introduction of the long-term care allowance as a social right in Austria.

“This allowance is key to enabling older persons to remain at home as long as possible and to live independent lives,” she said. “Ensuring quality control in home care is one of the main challenges. While home visits by certified care workers are to be welcomed, further measures are required to improve the protection of older persons against physical and mental violence, and from degrading treatment and neglect.”

The expert commended Austria for the rich variety of housing options for older people, including mixed and designated communities, age-adapted homes and flat-sharing concepts. She also welcomed the tax incentives and subsidies to encourage developers to build accessible and appropriate housing for older people, but noted that further efforts are required to ensure older persons can remain in their homes and fully enjoy their right to adequate housing.

She noted the high prevalence of the problem of potentially inappropriate medicine (PIM), which is associated with adverse outcomes like hospitalisation and death.

“A nationwide strategy on potentially inappropriate medication is required to guarantee the right to health of older persons in Austria,” Kornfeld-Matte noted. “I also call on the authorities to enshrine the right to palliative care in the legal framework to ensure that older persons can enjoy the last years of life in dignity and without unnecessary suffering.”

During her 10-day visit, Kornfeld-Matte met with various Government authorities, non-governmental organizations, others working on the rights of older persons, as well as some older persons themselves themselves. A report on her findings and recommendations will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in September this year.

Ms. Rosa Kornfeld-Matte (Chile) was appointed by Human Rights Council as the first Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons in May 2014.

Ms. Kornfeld-Matte served as the National Director of the Chilean National Service of Ageing where she designed and implemented the National Policy of Ageing. She has a long career as an academic and is the founder of the programme for older persons at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. To learn more, visit:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/OlderPersons/IE/Pages/IEOlderPersons.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.

Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights Country Page for Austria: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/ATIndex.aspx

For further information and media requests, please contact Mr. Khaled Hassine (+41 22 917 93 67 / khassine@ohchr.org / olderpersons@ohchr.org ). During the visit, he can also be reached on +41 79 201 01 25.

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