THE BLOG

Putting Ageing at the Heart of Development

17/06/2013 16:15 BST | Updated 14/08/2013 10:12 BST

The United Nations High Level Panel report, released at the end of last month, was an encouraging first step towards building an improved global sustainable framework to replace the influential Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Particularly promising was the commitment to ensuring that we will measure how progress will impact specifically on men and women of all ages, abilities, identities and locations. This will provide a truer picture of the lives of vulnerable people around the world and help governments, the private sector and civil society organisations tackle inequality - an essential component in the Panel's ambition to eradicate world poverty.

Given the global demographic transition that will soon see people aged over 60 outnumbering children under the age of 10, with the fastest changes occurring in the developing world, it is clear that sustainable development must proceed within the context of global ageing. However, the references to ageing in the report are inconsistent or relegated to the Appendix. The response to the most significant demographic shift is not reflected in the report by a clear program.

Most disappointing of all, when I put a question to the Panel on the omission of ageing, I was told that there was an entire chapter on ageing and its implications that was taken out of the report. This reflects a lack of prioritisation that will leave future generations - including those currently part of the youth bulge - entering old age unrecognised, unsupported and marginalised.

It is clear now that only a concerted effort with as wide a coalition as possible of organisations and governments will successfully deal with the social and economic implications of the ageing population. Next week's Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals taking place in New York, which has health and population dynamics as one of its topics, is an excellent opportunity to take a closer look at the demographic bubble and how it affects sustainable development.

In particular, I will be asking the OWG to give proper consideration to:

1/ Addressing inequality - 'leaving no one behind'. Regular income and access to health are necessary for all ages to live decent and secure lives. We must do this by ensuring social protection for all such as pensions and universal healthcare as well as employment, education and training opportunities for people of all ages. There is global agreement that these concepts are necessary to reduce poverty and inequality and guarantees of income and health security have already been endorsed by a broad range of Governments.

2/ Health - The future development framework must also recognise the increasing prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, diabetes, mental health and - the great silent killer - hypertension. In an ageing world it is clear that disease patterns will change and this key issue needs to come into sharper focus. A future development framework must generate an increase in prevention programs, drug availability and affordability and, above all, political will.

I will also be urging the Open Working Group to take seriously those countries demanding a UN Convention on the rights of older people which would provide a robust human rights base for post-MDG ageing. The framework for sustainable development must be based on the international human rights framework and promote the aspirations and rights of all people. The rights of older women and men, alone among the population groups, are still not enshrined in an international Convention. We work alongside a range of governments that are actively promoting the Convention and believe that a future development framework that does not explicitly address the rights of older people will be neither legitimate nor effective in achieving its aims.

The issue of population ageing has broad recognition within the international community as exemplified by the words of Ban Ki-moon, written as the Preface to our 'Ageing in the 21st Century' report': "As the international community embarks on an effort to articulate the post-2015 development agenda, it is clear that the issue of population ageing should be fully addressed as part of this process...population ageing can no longer be ignored". Other priorities notwithstanding, preparation for changing demographics is needed now to deal with a 'future' that is here already.