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Brisbane aged care advocate tells UN of ‘insidious ageism’ worldwide

Marcus Riley

Australian advocate: Marcus Riley. Photo: Mark Bowling.

BRISBANE advocate for the aged Marcus Riley has told delegates at United Nations headquarters in New York that older people are considered a burden, and “insidious ageism … permeates countries around the world”.

The 40-year-old, Catholic father-of-three and chairman of the Global Ageing Network, which has a presence in more than 50 countries, is lobbying for a UN Convention of the Rights of Older Persons.

There are no specific protections for the rights of older people – fundamental rights like access to accommodation, food, social and health services, as well as protection age discrimination.

In an opening address Mr Riley (pictured) told delegates at the UN Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing at UN headquarters: “Older people are largely undervalued, lumped together because they have reached a certain age and are assumed to be unproductive and a burden”.

“Age discrimination is widespread. Our collective attitude about ageing and the elderly remains negative and largely unchecked,” he said.

“We must recognise the vulnerability of the aged and ensure their protection whilst fostering the opportunity for older people to flourish and for society to benefit accordingly.”

A UN-sanctioned convention would ensure violence against older people was prosecuted, that older people could get and keep jobs, that they have social assistance or pension access to affordable health services, and that caregivers were supported.

The convention would guard against neglect and elder abuse.

Mr Riley spent a week working at UN headquarters in New York last month, describing it as “a great experience”, especially rubbing shoulders with world delegates and meeting 97-year-old advocate Helen Hamlin, from the International Federation on Ageing.

Marcus Riley at the UN

Advocate: Marcus Riley at the United Nations in New York.

“She was very sharp-minded and articulate and a great example of the potential for older people to have an ongoing voice in international forums,” he said.

Now back at work as chief executive officer of BallyCara, a south-east Queensland residential aged-care and community-care organisation, Mr Riley intends to continue his advocacy for support of a UN convention by engaging government agencies and community groups.

“My aim will be better engaging with older people and giving them a voice. I think in Australia we need to do that much better,” he said.

Mr Riley said the Australian Government had nominated a candidate to sit on the UN Human Rights Council from 2018, and support for the convention on ageing could bolster its chances of getting nominated.

“I think it would be a good demonstration of human rights for Australia to support this convention, ahead of our nomination to the Human Rights Council,” he said.

Mr Riley said Australia was “doing well” in many areas of aged care, but our decision-makers needed to “future proof opportunities for older people”.

“For me, that is a key objective for looking at a convention. What we’ve done in the past won’t be good enough to support and nurture the ageing population of the future,” he said.

Worldwide, the number of older people over 60 years is expected to reach more than two billion in 2050.

In developing countries the aged population is expected to triple during the next 40 years, and make up more than 80 per cent of the entire global aged population.

At the same time, the number of “older old” persons (defined as 80 years and over) in the developed world will reach unprecedented levels.

At the UN OEWGA meeting, Mr Riley said palliative care was highlighted as a key issue for the ageing.

“What is evident is the variance in the way palliative care is delivered across different regions,” he said. “There needs to be a lot more sharing of ways in which end-of-life care can be provided.”

This week Mr Riley was appointed to a steering commitee for GAROP (the Global Alliance for the Rights of Older People) to develop plans and direct activities following the UN session in December.

This group will consist of industry leaders from around the world (some are human rights lawyers, advocates and ageing experts) to advance the engagement with national governments, UN and relevant bodies in the interests of achieving a UN convention.

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