There is a global discrimination against the elderly and “Economic Discrimination” is just one aspect and in view of its nature, it is source and/or consequence regarding other factors, which have been discussed on previous Euromeetings.
“Economic discrimination. People who are in a non-productive minority (e.g. the elderly), those people do not have the necessary financial means in order to have a decent life standard”. This is a classic definition. However, there is a more complex one, which becomes plain as soon as we carefully observe the different aspects of daily routine.
Discrimination arises under various forms. We all are aware of the indirect discrimination which frequently happens when the neutrality of the rules and laws in force foster different kinds of social isolation.
Therefore, we forget to use the first and most simple meaning for the term “discrimination”. So, I could conclude that this kind of discrimination evolves successively rather than originally.
Nevertheless, the rules and laws in force in our civil system comprehend the whole development of our life: our life as individuals (one’s own free will) and our life as a part of an organized society (something imposed).
What I mean by “one’s own free will”, it is the consciously development of a moral duty, which should be part of all everyday duties, e.g. parents and/or grandparents’ responsibility towards children and grandchildren. Those duties are not only moral but protected under our countries laws.
Concerning the imposed aspect, there is a range of defensible rights and also the daily life duties the pensioners are subjected to. In other words, to calculate the pensions amount, to bring them up to date, to set wages limits and to establish the requirements for the insurances. Rights and duties regulated by legal requirements.
The rules regulating our daily life are not established in accordance to discriminatory criteria, whereas the resulting economic consequences and the application of those rules may be discriminatory against elderly people. It should also be considered the fact that these factors differ from one country to another, depending on its laws.
In brief and from the first approach, we can state that intergenerational solidarity has vanished in recent years. The system was created between the two World Wars, the aim of which was to make young people to guarantee the elderly people’s pension by means of Social security contributions, generation after generation.
Unfortunately this system failed on account of different factors. The first one is the rise in prices because of the rising demand on education, leisure, social development and so on. These prices increase has brought a decrease of the birth-rate (to bring up children means significant costs in our system), and so, a vicious circle in which the active population has decreased while the group of those who can no longer work is larger and larger, since the life expectancy is higher.
This situation has entailed an imbalance between social security incomes and expenditures, compelling the State to cut financial intervention and to establish a new system with lower state financial intervention and a much higher individual financial contribution (private or not).
We can conclude so, that when intergenerational solidarity disappears, “Discrimination” comes up. Nowadays each individual is responsible for his or her own future. We benefit from Social security funds only if we have contributed to and if we do not exceed entity’s limits. The present generation’s main concern is to be responsible for those people who are already retired; even more as soon as we think about the fact that present pensions are more secure than the future ones.
We are aware of the situation above mentioned and thus we realize that our requests need to be aimed at a population sector, the contribution of which has been (and still is) for many years very important, either throughout the active life, or through the intergenerational solidarity. Regrettably we realize as well that these requests are rejected and, what is more, they are considered as a defence of obsolete and unacceptable privileges. In other words, our requests are considered egoistic, and this is clearly a kind of discrimination.
The other side of the coin is the one that affects the result of the different interventions in several economic sectors with repercussions on elderly and pensioners. Even a positive fact as the higher life expectancy turns into a negative factor against the elderly.
Throughout the pensions problem analysis, we can establish what above mentioned and also, that the pension payment in percentage terms is not only based on the economic means of the retired person, but may be based on the cost of living increase. The pension rise is not directly proportional to prices rise, and therefore pensions are not protected from devaluation. In short: there are other major considerations.
One first consideration is related to life insurances. Nowadays the age limit when contracting life or health insurances has been extended. You may remember some advertisements announcing an age limit up to 90 years. But which are the requirements for? The premiums are extremely burdensome, since the insurance companies assert there is a higher outlay probability. In a field considered as risky, we can highlight that the banking system is very “cautious” when granting loans to pensioners or people having reached a certain age regardless of their means or immovable assets.
We can extrapolate from this example to other fields in our daily life. It does not matter whether it has something to do with economic factors or it is related to the physical and relational capabilities: most of the time elderly people are considered as a social deadweight instead of being considered as a knowledge source beneficial to our society.
The main concept is: “The elderly people represent a economic risk factor in our society”, which is not clearly said but is basically put into practice. This is why we must make people be aware and evolve, in order to be listened and fairly assessed. The gaps are too many and the State accepts it passively. What is the point in lodging protests if they do not have any effect? We play an active role in our society and as such we have civil rights and contribute to our countries development. The considerations and beliefs we assume in every single association or debate are not enough. We must fight and overcome any ideological barrier; we must join forces in order to carry an indisputable political weight. We must put a policy into practice that defends our rights without attacking other people rights. We have to prevent the generation gap, make every one get involved, so that a society free from barriers (age, sex, religion or any other kind) will be created. This is how a genuine wellbeing for everyone will be settled.
The elderly have got much initiative when it is about forming associations or setting up networks. However, the lack of education and knowledge about their rights, the poverty and the social isolation are barriers against the elderly people’s requests. Those requests, from an economic approach can be summarized as follows:
• Governments are responsible for the development of social protection systems, which will grant elderly people an income base; so that the money set aside for pensions will not be used for any other economic purpose.
• Every country has to establish a National Plan that will comprehend various factors (economic, social, cultural and health), in order to support action programs against poverty and to assure a universal access “in age friendly communities".
• We have to promote the idea that pensions are not only a universal right but also a right that can be exercised progressively and flexibly.
A new intergenerational consensus can be reached through duties and opportunities to meet the economic needs, the social assistance needs and the identity needs of a large group of people: a wide range of elderly people, a group that really lasts and can strengthen an already stable and “efficient” society, a higher life expectancy population with a lower birth-rate.
If half of those born nowadays reach the age of 80 and this life spectrum becomes the image, a point of reference, then, the population project, the social and relational structure, the income and the employment will have to back those people who are more integrated in a social structure than in a family one, and that even in countries where it would have never been traditionally an option.
The duty to take care of work relations, of human and economic resources, in a more innovative and socially organized way contributes to the reflexion about the employment and the income relation. A reflexion, moreover, that recognizes a need to combine and measure both of them. In intergenerational relationships, the elderly ask for less responsibility from the young generations: the intergenerational commitment comes from dialogue.
To conclude, I would like to quote the lawyer Caterina Mirto during her speech in the conference “The elderly people’s rights” held in Palermo: “In this corrupted society, concerned about forming groups at a frenetic pace and full of stimulus, people do not pay attention to the individuality of every single elderly person (even as grandparent), nor exalt the genuine origins of each individual. Here we can offer them the chance of seeking their own role and being satisfied with. A chance of reconstructing and safeguard the family values, of protecting and taking care of affection, of discovering what is not for fast consumption and so, we will be able to give free way to something new and better: to the patience and tenacity needed to be strength along a hard but healthy personal path based on the others respect, in order to guarantee the perpetuity of social life”.