Human Rights in Long-term Care in Europe: State of Play

© Georgakoudis Ioannis (www.georgakoudis.net/)

The United Nations celebrates the International Day of Older Persons on the 1st October each year to appreciate the contributions that older persons make to society, such as volunteering, caring for other family members and friends, working in paid employment, creating paid employment for others and acting as public representatives.

The day also helps to raise awareness about issues commonly affecting older persons, such as widespread elder abuse and problems accessing and receiving high quality long-term care. The International Day of Older Persons provides an opportunity to reflect on the current state of play in the human rights protection of older persons.

Significant challenges in protecting the human rights of older persons in Europe
Research recently carried out by six ENNHRI members on The Human Rights of Older Persons and Long-term Care in Europe shows that, in spite of advances in the care of older persons over the last ten or twenty years, older persons still face significant challenges in ensuring that their human rights are protected and promoted.

While the UN now has a total of nine core binding conventions to protect and promote human rights globally, the human rights of older persons in or seeking access to long-term care in Europe are scattered throughout almost all of them, making them somewhat invisible. Moreover, none of the binding conventions provide for older persons to have an explicit right to long-term care .

Impact on the provision of long-term care services in Europe
This lack of focus on the human rights of older persons has had an impact on service provision in Europe. Although many European states have provided long-term care services for many years, and have developed a human rights-based approach to service provision (e.g. making sure that care workers receive training in human rights to understand how best to interact with older service-users, or developing specialist services for older persons with dementia), in other countries, long-term care is under-developed.

In particular, home and community-based services for older persons remain under-developed throughout Europe, even though most older persons want to remain living at home as long as possible. As such, many older persons have no choice but to enter an institution, or, given the lack of residential services and/or prohibitive cost of formal services, many fall into a care vacuum where they must rely on family or friends to offer informal support.

Human rights - a powerful tool in enabling older persons to get the care they need
As the population of Europe ages, demand for long-term care services will increase. While states are planning for this future, many are concerned about the cost implications of increasing supply in line with current estimates.

Fortunately, UN member states are considering how to better protect and promote the human rights of older persons, including considering the feasibility of a new human rights instrument on the human rights of older persons.

On the International Day of Older Persons 2017, let’s choose not only to pay more attention to the need to respect the rights of older persons in our own lives, but also to be optimistic that human rights can prove to be a powerful tool in enabling older persons to get the care they need in the future.