Older women’s human rights in the UK – how are we doing?

This blog was contributed by Elizabeth Sclater, Secretary General of the Older Women’s Network, Europe

It’s just over a month since I returned from the UN in Geneva. I was accredited by the National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (NAWO), one of 40 people representing UK NGOs gathered for four days in July to lobby and support the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Committee members as they ‘examined’ the UK Government’s progress in implementing women’s human rights in the UK. As the only one with a focus on older women, it was important to ensure older age was mainstreamed in all our work, as well as highlighting the continuing and particular human rights challenges we as older women face in the UK.

UK CEDAW delegation in Geneva
UK CEDAW delegation in Geneva

It was great to see the openness of the Committee members to our lobbying on the three days prior to the hearing. They were quick to pick up on key issues; e.g. equality legislation changes (no more gender impact assessments), the impact of Legal Aid changes on women’s access to justice, the reduction in services to meet the needs of women experiencing violence, and the continuing challenges regarding health and reproductive rights in Northern Ireland.

During a morning session I borrowed an iPad and was able to contact the chair of the Women’s Budget Group (an NGO) in the UK. By lunch time, the Rapporteur (who was leading on the UK examination) had a draft of their Gender Equality Impact Assessment of the recent UK spending review. Monitoring the gender impact of Government spending reviews was specifically mentioned in the concluding remarks.

The  CEDAW does not have a specific mandate (other than in relation to pension provision) to address older women’s issues directly, and we were reliant on supplementary questions to pick up on the wider issues. Access to public transport for older and disabled women in rural areas was raised at the last session of the day, sadly with limited time for response. We were all incredulous with the Government response, which was woefully inadequate – indicating that this was only an issue for older women in Wales and Scotland and that bus travel was free.

For the first time a coalition of gender and age NGOs had developed an older women’s shadow report which the Committee had clearly read. Transport was a key issue raised by members of the rural focus groups Age UK ran for us in 2011. We spoke to the Committee members at the end of the session and were invited to submit recommendations for their consideration and inclusion in their concluding remarks.

Initially I was disappointed that the remarks were not more specific about older women, however on reflection it does give us as NGOs a wide brief to hold Government to account over the next four years, when it will report back to the Committee on actions taken to implement the recommendations. Paragraph 21 of the concluding observations reads:

The Committee urges the State party to mitigate the impact of austerity measures on women and services provided to women, particularly women with disabilities and older women. It should also ensure that Spending Reviews continuously focus on measuring and balancing the impact of austerity measures on women’s rights. It should further review the policy of commissioning services wherever this may undermine the provision of specialised women’s services.

Read the Concluding Observations and the older women’s shadow report

 Find out more about equality and human rights on the Age UK website

Author: Age UK

Age UK is dedicated to helping everyone make the most of later life. In the UK we help more than 7 million older people each year by providing advice, combating loneliness and enabling independence. Locally, we work as part of a network of independent charities which includes Age UK, Age Cymru, Age NI and Age Scotland and over 150 local Age UK partners in England and Wales.

8 thoughts on “Older women’s human rights in the UK – how are we doing?”

  1. How are we doing? We are doing badly for women born in the early 1950s who have to face the second accelerated state pension age rise! Especially those born 1953/1954/1955 who were not given enough notice, their retirement plans are in ruins. Many have worked from 15 years of age, they will have paid in 51 years of contributions by they can retire, yet the new l\aw says 35 years is enough to qualify for state pension, Many have no private pension as womens wages were not equal to mens until fairly recently, they had no chance to save, therefore they have no choice but to work with age related complaints, paying in more and they have lost another 18 months of their freedom. This is surely discrimination and the law needs to be reversed for those women !

  2. I agree with Ruth, if we’re talking about human rights take a good look at the plight of women like me who have been used by the coalition in their rush to push through the increased state pension age for women. Where was our 10 years notice of the second rise which other groups have to be given? It just didn’t happen. Consequently women who began work back in the late sixties/early seventies and who have never had access to, or enough money for, private pension arrangements are forced to work well past the age of physical ability because we had no opportunity to rethink our plans. I agree that older women should have rights, but I think my generation, the ones coming up to 60 next year have had a very rough deal, so don’t talk to me about human rights for older women, because we women born in the early fifties don’t seem to qualify to have them!

  3. I agree with both above….I was born in 1956 and feel I have been let down too. I started working age 15 years and have worked full time ever since…no time off to have children but now have to work while having splints on both hands because of the use over the years in various different jobs I now cannot work without them….where is my human rights……and because I have changed careers to accommodate my painful hands to working in an office I now have problems (diagnosed at the hospital) with my eyes and I feel this is due to working on a computer 8hrs a day 5 days per week because at weekends they are not so bad….where is my human rights………..that now I not only wear splints to allow me to work I also need to take with me eye drops and wash out my eyes every day ……again….where is my human rights ….non existent

  4. I totally agree with Ruth and Barbara! If you are not speaking for us AgeUK then who is? I cannot believe that you seem to have totally accepted the way women our age have been driven over roughshod, with hardly a squeak! We need you to fight for us! Please stop ignoring the obvious injustice done to women in their early to mid 50s.

  5. I turned 60 on 29th August after having worked since I was 15 (13 if you count saturday/sunday job while still at school) and should have collected my state pension on that day freeing me up to help mind my great grandchildren to let my grandaughter work and also spend some precious time with my 87 year old mother before her time run out – but no – the state pension which I have paid into has been denied to me – TWICE – so I have many years to wait till I can claim my pension – I am friends wwith Babz – Ruth and Fanny along with others in our group and AGE UK are well aware of who we are – so no we are doing extremely badly as a nation regarding the human rights of older women (and men) when a bunch of millionaires can change things at a whim – these are the people who could retire tomorrow if they wanted and would never know the meaning of hardship regardless of their ages – so no Age UK think again on what you can do to help older people get justice then we can begin to think if we are getting good value from the Human Rights ACT

  6. I was born in 1954. I, and thousands of others are being discriminated against. Purely due to the year in which we were born. Blatant Age Discrimination.Who is speaking up for us? I will be 60 next year and was prepared for the pension age increase to 64. Now my retirement plans have been shattered by this uncaring Government. I have a hard manual job and like Kath have problems with my hands. I also have other age/job related problems. What will I do when the work gets too much for me? I have never had a job that provided a pension or had the means to provide one for myself, but I have worked hard and paid my contributions. We deserve to be treated the same as everyone else. Why have we not been given 10 years notice like the rest of the population? Even a Government Minister stated that 10 years notice was only fair. We don’t matter we are spread around the country, with no Union to help us and no one to speak up for us.We can’t strike. That is why the Government ignore us. The last thing you should be in this Country is a hard working honest WOMAN.

  7. Thank you for all your comments everyone. At Age UK we know that the increases to women’s State Pension Age are of major concern to many women and that it is particularly hard for those who have health problems or caring responsibilities. That is why we campaigned so hard to try to delay the changes when these were being debated in Parliament in 2011. While the efforts of individuals and organisations including Age UK succeeding in delaying the increase by six months, it was disappointing that we could not achieve more. We continue to raise concerns about the impact of increasing State Pension Age, but we do not feel that further campaigning on State Pension Age would change the current position. Instead we are pursuing this issue via parliamentary work and face-to-face meetings with MPs.

    Viewing these issues through the lens of human rights can be a useful way of making the argument for better state pension provision; we strongly believe that access to adequate income in retirement is essential in order to secure older people’s rights to freedom, dignity and autonomy. We continue to work with our partners at Age International to push for a UN Convention on the Rights of Older People that would include a right to social security. States would be obliged to meet this in a non-discriminatory way, including on the basis of gender.

  8. The French changed it back to 60 why can’t we? They care about their citizens – really care!! Go to the Court of Human rights with a massive application for discrimination against all the women in this group – some 800,000. Take up the case and everyone of us will support it, friends and families too.

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