The Global Impact of Ageing: The Oldest Old

In an earlier blog we discussed how people aged over 85 are the fastest-growing segment of the UK population. However, this is not just happening here or in other industrialised nations; rather, it’s a global phenomenon.

Age UK is working with the Gerontological Society of America to invite articles from experts around the world on what is happening, why, and what it means for societies, health and social care services, and policy-makers. These submissions has been published in the recent Public Policy and Aging Report.

blogSome of these submissions looked at comparing life expectancy, disease, and disability trends in the 85+ group across countries. There are many variations, but one commonality across all of these countries is that the average person over 85 is a woman living alone in the community, which means governments and societies will have to think about how to meet growing needs for these people without family to look after them. Continue reading “The Global Impact of Ageing: The Oldest Old”

Celebrating the achievements of older people

1 October is the International Day of Older Persons.  Age International sees this as a time to celebrate the achievements of older people and a time to celebrate increased life expectancy around the world.


In Vietnam, Van Quang and Vu Thi celebrate a long and happy marriage

Population ageing is one of the most significant trends of the 21st century. With 1 in 9 persons in the world aged 60 years or over, projected to increase to 1 in 5 by 2050, population ageing is a phenomenon that can no longer be ignored.

It has important and far-reaching implications for all aspects of society.

Population ageing is happening in all regions and countries at various levels of development. It is progressing fastest in developing countries, including those that have a large population of young people. Of the current 15 countries with more than 10 million older persons, seven of these are developing countries.

Ageing is a triumph of development and increasing longevity is one of humanity’s greatest achievements. People live longer because of improved nutrition, sanitation, medical advances, health care, education and economic well-being. Continue reading “Celebrating the achievements of older people”

How are the current policies of UK government and businesses meeting the needs of an ageing society?

1.4 million people in the UK are now aged over 85 and the numbers of older people continue to rise. Age UK’s new report, Agenda for Later Life 2012, looks at how public policy is meeting the challenges of an ageing society both at home and abroad.

This annual stock take sets out our longer term vision and the priorities for action in each area. We outline the opportunities to build on the positive developments of 2011, such as the publication of the Dilnot report on care funding, proposals for reform of State Pensions and the abolition of the Default Retirement Age.

While the Coalition Government is starting to address some of the challenges associated with ageing, action is needed to bring together disparate policy threads and to create an overarching, strategic framework for active ageing for today and tomorrow.

This should cover what Government, local authorities, the private and voluntary sector and individuals need to do. After all, our ageing society affects us all. Continue reading “How are the current policies of UK government and businesses meeting the needs of an ageing society?”

Older people in Burma driving development

This blog was contributed by Camilla Williamson, public affairs adviser at Age UK, who is currently undertaking a secondment with HelpAge International in South East Asia.

It’s hard to understand what an older person in Burma’s life is like by just reading stats and facts on paper whilst sitting in an office.  I’d been doing this for a few months and thought I had a pretty good appreciation of the difficulties faced by these communities and some of the practical and policy solutions needed to help.  But arriving in a village that is only accessible by a 20 minute

There are 41 Older People’s Self-Help Groups (OPSHGs) in Burma

punt down a narrow stream wedged in between rice paddies, after a four hour rocky road journey from Yangon, sharply brings the reality into focus.

Ma Au Kone consists of 260 small wooden houses built on stilts over streams running through miles fields.   There is no electricity.  There is no fresh water.  The nearest hospital is 15 miles away (or 2 hours in local terms) and transportation there is expensive: at a cost of 100,000 kyats it is equal to what one OPSHG makes in a year (see below).  

Like many of the villages in Burma, health and livelihood are the two dominant challenges for older people and their communities here, and the kind of change that is needed to address the issues is not small.  It will necessitate full-scale, population-wide development over a number of years.

So where does an organisation like HelpAge International start?

One of their chief solutions to the multiple problems faced by communities in Burma is the Older People’s Self-Help Groups (OPSHGs).   These are community-based organisations which aim to improve the well-being of people in later life, their families and communities in a wide-range of ways. HelpAge has been supporting the establishment of OPSHGs in Burma since 2008 and, working with local staff, has helped to set up 41 across the country.  In addition to supporting their establishment, HelpAge works with the groups to train them to be independent and to undertake livelihood programmes, homecare projects and health promotion. 

It was incredible to see first-hand the kind of impact these groups are having, not only on older people but on entire communties.  Rice banks which loan out baskets of rice, each one enabling families to grow an entire field of food, are rapidly increasing in size.  The OPSHGs are promoting health and care education which has enabled all generations to lead healthier lives as both the older people and the volunteers pass on their knowledge to others.  The president of the OPSHG in Ma Au Kone told us how, last year, the visiting health professional funded by the project correctly diagnosed and, as a result, saved the lives of a mother and baby. 

Perhaps the biggest achievement and testimony to the impact older people can have on development has come from OPSHGs in Pyin Oo Lwin in North Burma where they have installed electricity in 741 households, 10 primary schools, 10 monastries, 5 health centres, as well as street lighting in 6 villages.  And this is all financed by OPSHG fundraising activities. 

On visiting these communities, I met and spoke to people of all ages involved either as members or volunteers in OPSHGs, all keen to tell me how the groups were changing their villages and their ambitious plans for the future.  In five years, OPSHGs across the township spoke of their aims for facilitating the building of better roads and communication means, the introduction of electricity to all households, funding more scholarships for children’s education and, in one village, the introduction of a social pension!

It’s clear that while waiting for top-level change to happen, older people in Burma are creating it themselves with great impact.  What’s important going forward is that this action spreads. We’re currently hoping the Government will adopt the OPSHG model and replicate it nationally which would ensure more older people in Burma get the opportunity to improve their own lives and the lives of their communities.

Find out more about HelpAge International’s work in Burma

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Guest blog – Displacement in Colombia

This guest blog was contributed by Susi Taylor, Programme Director for Colombia, HelpAge International, to mark Human Rights Day on 10 December.

“We lived well there,” says Gregoria, a lively 68 year-old Afro-Colombian woman, who is telling me about her home. “I had nine children. I had my animals. I cultivated many kinds of fruit.  I only had to buy small things from the local town. I had everything else right there. We had our own water system, which we had constructed. That was a reason for their arrival [illegal armed groups] and why they didn’t want to go. The displacement was terrible. When we

Fanny works as a lawyer for the Peace & Wellbeing Foundation/ photo credit: Antonio Olmos/HelpAge International

arrived [in Cali]… I heard about the Fundación Paz y Bien (Peace and Wellbing Foundation) and the project with HelpAge. They advised me to present a claim for inclusion [as an IDP in the state register] and I am now registered as displaced. I enjoy the project meetings, because they guide us, teach us, share legal knowledge and we are learning to knit.  I can sing, embroider, and I like to write.”

Gregoria is just one of the millions of people, who have been forcibly displaced by the decades-long internal armed conflict in Colombia due to threats against their life and personal security, a basic universal human right. Gregoria is over 60 years of age, the group that makes up over 10% of internally displaced people (IDPs). Older people are affected by displacement differently from other age groups, because of their particular characteristics. They therefore need special protection. They are the most likely to resist displacement. Many have lived all their lives on the land as farmers, so they suffer greatly having to flee to cities like Cali where they are bewildered by their new urban surroundings and cannot use any of their agricultural skills to access employment. Their loss of status as family providers causes deep depression in many older IDPs, exacerbated by the daily violence of the inner city areas where they end up. Many older IDPs cannot read or write and do not know about what kind of help they can get when they’ve been displaced – for themselves and for their grandchildren, who are often left in their care.

Luckily for Gregoria and others, there are organizations like Fundación Paz y Bien which is based in Aguablanca, Cali, which provide services for the displaced when the state system is overwhelmed. HelpAge International has been supporting a dedicated team of local community workers at Paz y Bien for two years to provide legal advice to the recently displaced, so that they can register with the appropriate state services and receive the government’s aid package, as well as longer-term support to help them claim their rights and get back on their feet. Paz y Bien also provides much-needed psycho-social support for older IDPs and their grandchildren, a state service which is almost absent throughout the country.

Fundación Paz y Bien was founded by the dynamic Sister Alba Stella, a Human Rights Defender who, together with the women of the community, started work to tackle the many needs facing the district of Aguablanca. In collaboration with local state services, they provide a myriad of community-based support programmes, including shelter for pregnant teenagers who have difficulties with their families; refuge and support for youth at risk of recruitment by local delinquent gangs; a crèche and kindergarten for hundreds of children whose mothers have to work; a programme to train local women for domestic employment, so that they know their rights and duties; and the protection programme with a specific focus on older IDPs for response to the internally displaced population, which arrives mainly from the Southern Pacific Coast, one of the current hot spots of the internal armed conflict.

On this Human Rights Day, I would like to pay homage to Sister Alba Stella and her dedicated team of community members, who work tirelessly with the local people of their community to live free of fear and want, and to achieve a dignified standard of living adequate for their health and well-being, and that of their families, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Read our feature about older people in Colombia

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Find out more about what HelpAge International is doing to help older displaced people in Colombia

Guest Blog – Violence against older women: tackling witchcraft accusations

25 November marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.  Age UK asked its sister organisation, HelpAge International, to write a blog highlight the shocking practice of witchcraft allegations resulting in terrible acts of violence against older women.

In many parts of the world, older women, and sometimes older men, are still accused of witchcraft and subjected to violent attacks as a result. Recent media reports have highlighted the problem in Burkina Faso, Ghana, India, Kenya, Malawi, Nepal and Tanzania though the problem is not limited to these countries. 

In most of these countries, belief in witchcraft is common, with people from all sections of society sharing this belief regardless of their level of education, socio-economic group or ethnic origin.

It is usually the most discriminated against and marginalised who are accused ofwitchcraft because they are least able to defend themselves or because they are considered of little value to society and therefore a burden to it in times of hardship. One of the most vulnerable groups is older women.

Reliable data on the number of accusations and violent attacks is hard to come by. Government departments tend not to release the data and it is commonly accepted that these crimes are underreported. In Tanzania, for example, the Tanzania Legal and Human Rights Centre reported an average of 517 killings per year between 2004 and 2009.

Witchcraft accusations are often generated by wider problems in the community. Accusations can be linked to disputes between neighbours or family over land and inheritance. Traditional healers are often requested by those who have had misfortune, illness, or death in the family, to point out who has been “bewitching” them. More often than not, the traditional healer points to an older, vulnerable woman in the village.

The question is then, what is the best way to protect older women from these accusations and related violence and ensure that they are able to seek justice for any crimes committed against them?

HelpAge International and its local NGO partners in Tanzania have focused on community-based interventions. These include training people in women’s and widows’ rights and misconceptions about HIV and other illnesses; training  community members to provide paralegal advice on land, inheritance and marriage rights; working with religious and local government leaders; and influencing the behaviour of traditional healers.

On a more practical level, local communities have built houses for women who have been threatened or attacked.  Fuel-efficient stoves have been provided to show that red eyes – often associated with witchcraft – are actually caused by a lifetime of working over smoky cooking fires. 

These community-based programmes have shown positive results. There has been a 99 per cent reduction in the killing of older women in the programme areas and a significant reduction in disputes over land rights, inheritance and matrimonial issues.

Introducing or reforming legislation to criminalise accusations of witchcraft has also been suggested. To understand more about this as a potential solution, HelpAge requested guidance from lawyers on the use of this type of legislation. The findings of their research, which covered 9 countries, highlighted the inadequacies of specific witchcraft-related laws.

Very often witchcraft legislation fails to prevent accusations of witchcraft or protect those accused from violence. It rarely provides redress for the victims of violent crimes. Witchcraft-related laws are rarely enforced and there are concerns around whether people are getting fair trials or being unlawfully imprisoned under this type of legislation.

HelpAge believes that community interventions that empower older people and address the conditions that lead to accusations have more likelihood of success than concentrating on witchcraft-specific legislation.          

However, more does need to be done to strengthen justice systems and make them more accountable to those who seek justice. Inheritance laws should be revised if they are found to discriminate against women and widows and acts of violence against people accused of witchcraft should be prosecuted under existing criminal laws, such as assault, theft, damage to property or murder.

This guest blog was contributed by Bridget Sleap, Senior Rights Policy Adviser at HelpAge International.

Find out more about the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

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Ageing in Asia Pacific

Camilla Williamson is Public Affairs Adviser at Age UK and is currently doing a three month secondment with HelpAge International at their East Asia Pacific Regional evelopment Centre in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  Camilla is working on ageing policy in the region and strategies for communicating the work the regional team are doing with people in later life to governments.

A number of people’s initial response to the topic of ageing in Asia Pacific might be to assume that as a result of wide-spread poverty and health challenges in the region, population ageing is less of an issue here than it is in, say, Europe. But a glance at some global and regional stats on changing demographics will quickly give you an appreciation of the challenges countries here are facing and why the ageing population debate is especially pertinent to them.

Many of you will know the often repeated stat that the global population of over 60s is set to more than double by 2050, resulting in there being, for the first time, more people over 60 in the world than under 15. But did you also know that 80% of these older people will be in the developing world, with 1,236 million (62%) in Asia?

It is not just the enormity of the figure that presents a challenge: it’s also a question of pace.  Whereas it took between 45 and 150 years to double the older population from 7 to 14 percent in most developed European countries, it is expected to take China, for example, a mere 26 years; Thailand 22, and Singapore a mere 19.

The key issue here is that unlike most Western countries, many East Asia Pacific nations are having to meet the needs of an ageing population before they become relatively wealthy and modernized. The (often extreme) poverty that many of these countries face means that while in Europe we have social protection and health care systems which are there to support us as we age, in these countries providing universal welfare of this sort, even solely for the elderly, is a challenge. 

The task then for organisations like Age UK and our sister organisation, HelpAge International, cannot be to merely encourage governments in the region to provide more directly, but to encourage and support them to enable non government organisations, business, civil society and, most importantly, older people themselves to come together and develop collaborative systems for improving later life. 

Key areas for work include strengthening the informal care system; tackling gender inequality – there are many more older women than men in the region, and they are in more severe poverty than their male counterparts; improving health and wellbeing; addressing the needs of older people in emergencies; and enabling economic, social and political participation for people in later life.   

The Strategic Framework for Social Welfare and Development (2011-15) published this month by ASEAN (Association of South East Asia Network), with support from HelpAge in Asia, addresses a number of these issues and provides governments in the region with a strong framework for progress. HelpAge’s role in this will be to use our expertise to help develop and build capacity for the design, budget and delivery of innovative solutions.

Through older people’s associations all over the region, we are already delivering practical projects on the ground addressing the full range of older people’s needs.  These include home care services, HIV/AIDS programmes, advocacy work, social protection training, and income-generating programmes.  Through these projects, the network successfully helps thousands of older people and their communities.   Our job for the future is to advance this work and show governments in the region, by example, how they can, individually and in partnerships, help many, many more.

 Find out more about our international work

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