Report looks at age discrimination

Age discrimination in Northern Ireland means older people suffer inequalities in social and health care, housing and education.

These are the findings of a report for the Human Rights Commission published on Tuesday.

Enhancing the Rights of Older People was written in consultation with organisations which help older people including Age Concern, Help the Aged and the Carers’ National Association.

The report’s authors considered the extent to which law, policy and practice in Northern Ireland protects and promotes the rights of older people.

It looked at the areas of social care, health care, transport, income levels, housing, education and employment.

The report said that while there were “several international instruments” protecting and promoting the rights of older people, laws, policies and practices in Northern Ireland still discriminated directly and indirectly against older people.

It said that the difference of treatment in the areas it identifies “arguably contravenes the Human Rights Act 1998, which incorporates the European Convention of Human Rights into the legal system of Northern Ireland”.

Maura McCallion, author of the report, said: “There is a need for government action to combat age discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity if the fundamental rights of people at one of the most vulnerable stages of life are to be truly respected.”

Government departments, other public bodies and the commission will have to sit down and consider what changes they should seek to bring about to end these abuses
Brice Dickson
Commission head

Policies and practices in these areas breach the right to life, the prohibition of degrading treatment, the right to private and family life and the right not to be discriminated against in the exercise of those rights under the convention, the report said.

It said that the extent of discrimination tended to be hidden because of an absence of research especially in relation to the health care system.

Head of the commission Brice Dickson said the report drew attention to a whole range of human rights abuses which older people suffered.

“Northern Ireland government departments, other public bodies and the commission itself will now have to sit down and consider what changes they should seek to bring about to end these abuses,” he said.

The report recommended actions it would like to see the government take to better protect the rights of older people.

They include:

  Legislation or guidance to allow seamless transfer for those in residential care between Great Britain and Northern Ireland

  Increased funding to tackle waiting lists and remedy reductions in services, particularly on transfer to the “elderly team”

  Amendment of the policy barring student loans for those over 54

  Amendment of the law exempting education from provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995

  Consideration of a flexible retirement age.

  Removal of the overlapping benefit rule for carers allowance and retirement pension

  Introduction of a mobility benefit for older people

  Monitoring the implementation of free transport across Northern Ireland and considering how other barriers to travel can be tackled