Presentation of Fringe Meeting in Barcelona at the 12th EGP-Council – 21th March 2010
Happy Ageing – Another Ageing is possible
The paper today is the first part in our campaign of another aging is possible. Today we are looking at the Happy Aging indicators, which show us whether the countries are on a right track or on a wrong path. The second part of our White paper is not yet ready. It will collect and present good practices – with your collaboration – that we already have in many countries and of which other countries can learn. The third part will consist of our political agenda, which we can take up at European level or in individual countries. I am proposing some action points here but there are more at the end of the paper. You may have some others. In any case, these too we need to work out together.
Based on our 10 happy aging indicator compass (covering healthy life expectancy, poverty, suicides and political aspects) we can conclude the following.
We are blamed being tax and budget burdens, only expected to grow with our increasing numbers. We must challenge this. Aging is a biological process. Talk about budget burdens is talk against life! It is this age discrimination, which costs our governments millions of euros. It is not aging that costs. But HOW we age. And how we age is not just determined by biology. It is a political issue. Because how we age is also determined by whether we feel valued or we succumb to depression, whether we have healthy or unhealthy food, whether we have access to preventive and curative health care, whether we have sufficient or insufficient incomes and whether we enjoy dignity and rights of full citizenship or we are belittled as second-class citizens. Bad aging is an economic, social and deeply political issue. In order to be happy – feeling valued, content and curious, socially and economically safe and relatively healthy – we need to change all these bad things. However, do we have a voice for it? Are there institutions for our participation and influence?
From our analysis, we can see that what matters is not the length of expected life. Rather, what matters for us and also for social budgets is how healthy these years are. When we look at the statistics of healthy life after 65 years of age, we can see huge gaps between countries. Countries vary from 6.2 years with men in Finland to 10.5 years in Sweden and Malta. With women, the variation is from 5.9 in Germany to 11.1 in UK and Malta. Best performers in Europe – those not in our statistics – are doing even better. In Denmark, women can expect to be healthy 14.1 and men 13.1 years.
Men who normally live shorter life have also shorter healthy life expectancy. Good news is that their situation has started to improve. Women who normally live longer; also tend to stay longer healthy than men except in Austria, Germany, Luxembourg and Spain. But the situation is worsening in many countries and the healthy years of many women have started to worsen in Netherlands (statistically by 3 years), Ireland (2) and Finland (1.2). This should send a political signal to these governments! It is important to know what we do right and where we go wrong.
Best performers, Netherlands and Sweden also have highest budget contributions to long-term care and old age care. So has Denmark, also when it comes to highest public expenditure. This is probably one of the causes behind the good healthy life expectancy. But budget increases need to be significant (or combined with other factors) in order to increase healthy life.
We also know from other studies that social class matters and that differences between poor and wealthy and with less educated and more educated people, are larger than just gender differences. I have had no access to such comparable figures. But I have collected comparable statistics on poverty.
In 2008 in Europe, 19 % of elderly population risked being poor. Women are most at risk. In 2006, poverty was particularly high among women above 65 in Ireland (45 %), Spain (32 %) and UK (27 %). It was particularly low in Netherlands (6%), Luxemburg (6 %) and Czech Republic (6 %). Nevertheless, after the age 75 the situation deteriorates. Most drastic increase was in Ireland (63%) and in UK (36%). Good news is that in 2008, poverty of age group 75+ started to reduce for both men and women, except in Finland and Netherlands, where poverty for women continued to increase. Decrease may be explained by some improvements in pension systems. But because of economic crisis, pension systems may be reduced and bring poverty figures up again. The lesson is that we must see that we have sustainable pension systems that do trap those over 75 into poverty.
Poverty haunts women, but men are haunted by suicides. Suicide situation of elderly people is not a well-known topic. According to the EU statistics in 2005, 33 % of suicides were committed by those over 65. This is three times higher than suicide rate of those between 15-24 years. Suicide risk for men is 3.3 times higher than that of women. Particularly men over 75 have a high risk to suicides.
So problems are more for people over 75. Although we need to attend all old age risks, particular attention must be given to this age group. Unfortunately, this same age group is poorly represented in decision making. This we can see from the age structure in European parliaments. Those over 70 have none or at best 1-2 members in the Parliament. We also lack political institutions that represent elderly and give voice to them. Our recognition must start from national constitution where explicit reference needs to be made to full citizenship rights of the elderly.
We need to have people of all ages, participating in social, economic and political decision-making. Instead of seeing our elderly as some kind of marginal people, we belong to the centre of life. Pressure must also come from the people. For this reason, we need to empower elderly people and change the attitudes, which they too have adopted from the age-unfriendly society. Our age-hostile societies lack concept and role models of positive aging, let alone happy aging.
We cannot be represented by younger generations who do not know about our stage of life with its problems and happiness. I would like to apply here the same principle of political participation that the disabled people’s leader Kalle Könkkölä has said about the participation of disables people. He says “nothing about us, without us” So we cannot just be objects of welfare. Nor can our interests be taken care just by the welfare organisations and care personnel. We need to be active, have our own leaders and be well represented in political decision-making. When it comes to citizenship and democratic voice, there is no “retirement age”! Society and politics belong to all. Future does not just belong to the young but to all of us. In future societies there will always be infants, young, adults, middle-agenda and elderly.
All this is an opportunity to the Green Party. When we activate and empower the seniors, we also wake them up as voters. The greens can grow with our large numbers. We have experience and also new ideas. We will also pursue political agendas with other age groups. Together with all greens, we want to change the present unsustainable economic model that creates problems but scapegoats them to people. The unsustainable consumption model drives growth, and treats nature and human beings with contempt. Consumption culture treats everything as quickly consumed and discardable things. This attitude is also applied to people. They want to discard people after certain age or after disability.