The 11th event under the theme of ‘Talking about the Human Rights of Older Persons’ took place in the form of online roundtable meetings with the members of the AGAC Global Advisory Group, which was newly formed and launched in January 2o23. AGAC Global Advisory Group consists of five members that represent Europe, Asia and North America, as well as academia, civil society, think-tanks and the medical professions. The list of AGAC Global Advisory Group members can be found through this link:아셈노인인권정책센터 (asemgac.org)
Given that AGAC Global Advisory Group members reside in different parts of the world, two separate meetings were held on the 5th and the 7th of December 2022. This is a summary of the meeting held on the 5th of December, that Prof. Titti Mattsson (Lund University, Sweden) and Dr Kai Leichsenring (Executive Director, European Center for Social Welfare Policy and Research, Austria) took part in. From AGAC, Dr Hye-Kyung Lee, the Chairperson of the Board of Directors, and Dr Hae-Yung Song, the General-Secretary, took part. During the meeting, Prof. Titti Mattsson and Dr Kai Leichsenring talked about their recent involvement in (research) activities and shared their views on notable developments and trends relating to the rights of older persons.
Dr Hye-Kyung Lee (Chairperson of the Board of Directors, AGAC)
Dr Lee first welcomed and expressed her thanks to Dr Leichsenring and Dr Mattsson for joining the AGAC Advisory Group as well as for their great contributions to the Center’s various projects for the last years. She then introduced the main activities of the Center and its achievements in the last year, from policy research and hosting the ASEM Forum on the Human Rights of Older Persons: Present and Future to its extended global engagements such as participating in the GAROP (The Global Alliance – For the Rights of Older People) Global Rally in March 2022 and the UN OEWGA (Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing) in April.
She also discussed what issues are currently most discussed in Korea, a country that is one of the fastest-ageing societies in the world. Among others, having experienced the problems of ‘institutionalization’ together with an increase in the number of single households occupied by older persons, a new alternative in the direction of ‘de-institutionalization’ and ‘de-familialization’ is currently sought by researchers, activists and policy makers in Korea. Against this background, it is important to learn from and share with other countries’ experiences and trials in responding to global ageing, both failed and successful cases, which is also a rationale for the launch of the AGAC Global Advisory Group.
Dr Kai Leichsenring (Executive Director, European Center for Social Welfare Policy and Research, Austria)
Dr Leichsenring has carried out and been involved in research on integrated care, long-term care, social and health care services, pension, and loneliness. He is currently working on an edited volume on future research needs and social policies in the context of ageing. The European Center for Social Welfare Policy and Research (hereafter ‘European Center’) has also been active in pursuing projects assessing ageing-related issues from a human rights-centered approach, having published ‘Towards a Rights-based Approach to Long-Term Care’ in 2019. At the international and global levels of engagement, he also represents research at the Standing Working Group on Ageing at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), based in Geneva. Another important engagement was that the European Center co-organised the Joint Forum of Civil Society and Scientific Research at the UNECE Ministerial Conference on Ageing held in Rome in June 2022.
Apart from this, the European Center is also collaborating with WHO Europe and providing training for the Asian Development Bank in the field of developing social services particularly in the context of ageing. This training is a good opportunity to learn what is going on in Asia, where the provision of social services for older persons and people with disabilities is emerging as an important issue. Given the rapid pace of population ageing in Asia, a further decline of family support is expected in the next decade, which will have a great impact on these societies. With rapid social changes, particularly changes in gender relations, the traditional form of care based on the family and unpaid work by women is not going to be sustainable.
In responding to the common issue of population ageing, it is important to recognize differences that exist across different countries. While there is an agreement on the need to adopt a 'human rights-based’ approach, huge cultural differences exist. This suggests that copying what has been done in one country does not necessarily work in other countries. For instance, in Austria, Italy and Spain, women from Eastern Europe have taken over the care of older persons as live-in carers. With the equalization of wages across Europe and the development of long-term care in Eastern Europe, elder care reliant on migrant women from Eastern Europe is unlikely to be sustainable in a longer term. In this context, a challenge for countries heavily reliant on immigration in their elder care is how to move toward a more formalized care. But at the same time, countries like Sweden where institutionalized or formalized care has been advanced, having a ratio of residential care four times higher than that of Italy, try to move towards ‘de-institutionalization’.
The European Center is currently carrying out comparative research on welfare regimes, assessing how each country has a different welfare mix whereby the state, family, the market and the third sector play different roles. This study intends to explore what role the third sector/community can play and how to optimize a welfare mix. In fact, there has been an interesting movement in the Netherlands to create community care associations and foundations as a way to incorporate bottom-up elements in the highly developed formal welfare system.
To the extent that one-to-one care is unsustainable in the current demographic trend while elder care today requires professional and holistic support, new solutions other than family care and large-scale institutionalization need to be sought. Smaller facilities and community-based care emerge in this context as alternatives as ways to ensure quality of life at later life.
Prof. Titti Mattsson (Lund University, Sweden)
Prof. Mattsson specializes in elder law and social welfare law in Europe and has also taken part in numerous multidisciplinary and international projects that involved Asia and Australia.
To the extent that ageing and elder law have global dimensions and that the international community is pursuing the adoption of a Convention on the Human Rights of Older Persons, these are exciting fields to be in. It is very timely and encouraging to see that AGAC tries to expand its global reach, for instance, initiating and launching the AGAC Global Advisory Group.
One of the noticeable developments in recent years is the application of AI (Artificial Intelligence) to a wider sphere of life. AI development affects the older population positively and negatively. Some older persons must have found digitalization making their lives difficult, for instance, with cash being increasingly replaced, and the fact that the fast penetration of digitalization in daily life can isolate older persons. Furthermore, digitalization causes new kinds of criminality and fraud which affect older people more adversely. On the other hand, AI developments can offer new assistance opportunities which can fill the gap left by (migrant) young women in elder care, particularly in the European context. This suggests that elder law professionals should pay closer attention to these social changes and challenges.
Now the Swedish government emphasizes the importance for universities to develop ‘profile’ areas, interdisciplinary large-scale research areas, where four or five faculties are working jointly together. For instance, at Lund University, a profile study on ‘proactive ageing’ was launched, whereby professionals from medical, social sciences, social services and law faculties work together to find a solution to allow older people to get on with their daily lives as well as possible at a reasonable cost in a sustainable manner.
Swedish people live longer than other European peers, but they happen to be the loneliest people in the world – it is not uncommon that funerals are attended only by priests. Sweden is famous for a social welfare system developed from the 1940s. However, urbanization and the nuclearization of the family that advanced for the last several decades left it to be the country with the highest number of lonely people in the world. Unfortunately, most societies are moving into this direction and it is important now to think about what we are really striving for.
As some countries are blind to the challenges that population ageing poses, the first step must be to face the reality. With the recognition that there is no simple and easy solution to numerous challenges associated with population ageing, it is important to gather information and to learn by doing. Furthermore, it is important to be insistent on keeping human-rights values when we make choices. And at the same time, we need to be open to new approaches. In fact, the ‘vulnerability theory’ that has been newly formulated can offer an important insight. According to this theory, everybody is born vulnerable and can be vulnerable for different reasons. The ‘vulnerability theory’ can complement a human rights-based approach which is arguably conflict-driven and which often requires the representation by a strong group and the enforcement by law. We can assess the needs of older persons under the faith that we are all living under vulnerability.
Hae-Yung Song (firstname.lastname@example.org)