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Older people’s interests in policymaking: a lesson from COVID-19?

Piera Petruzzi

Member State governments have begun to release more optimistic data about the spread of COVID-19 infection, the numbers of vaccinations administered and intensive care unit admission rates. Some heads of government even envisage that wearing masks may be unnecessary in the next few months.

The recent attempts by some media to understand the real impacts of the crisis, in terms of the numbers of people who have died of COVID-19, suggest that we have entered a new phase: there is light at the end of the tunnel and we are trying to determine what really happened over the last year and a half.

Officially, COVID-19 has killed over 3.4 million people around the world. However, according to recent statistical modelling published by The Economist, which estimated how many deaths have gone uncounted, the virus has killed around 10 million people. 

The virus has killed people of all ages; however, the vast majority of victims have been older with underlying health issues. Looking at Europe's ageing population, a trend that will continue in the coming decades, with projections suggesting that the proportion of people aged 65 and above will rise to 24 % by 2050, the importance in policymaking of designing our environments in an age-friendly way and considering older people's interests is evident.

We have recently observed some promising approaches towards ageing. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared 2021 - 2030 to be the Decade of Healthy Ageing. In a conference on ageing in November 2020, the idea of turning ageing into an opportunity and ‘launching a Silver Deal, just like the Green Deal’ was advocated by cities and well received by participants.

“The virus has killed people of all ages; however, the vast majority of victims have been older with underlying health issues.”

Germany, Portugal and Slovenia signed a trio presidency declaration on ageing in December 2020.

The three countries are jointly advocating urgent adaptation to demographic change and mainstreaming of ageing-related matters in all policy areas. The declaration is an important achievement in terms of strengthening the rights of older people. It stresses a human rights-based approach to ageing well, in order to ensure that increased life expectancy is accompanied by continuing good health and economic conditions.

Furthermore, the European Commission has launched a consultation on the Green Paper on Ageing. The green paper sets out the key issues related to ageing and discusses possible ways to anticipate and respond to the socio-economic impact of Europe's ageing population. In parallel, the Council of the European Union approved the Conclusions on m ainst reaming ageing in public policies in March 2021.

In the recently published policy brief ‘The ageing revolution: to wards a European Silver Deal?’ ( ), ESPON stressed some key recommendations for cities, regions and countries.

Being ambitious and facilitating healthy and inclusive ageing is the starting point in the formulation of long-term strategies on ageing. While developing strategies on ageing, policymakers should be supported by European, national and regional mechanisms, including funds and a dedicated network for the exchange of good practices.

Amsterdam, Barcelona, Gothenburg, Greater Manchester, Hengelo, Nantes, Oslo and Zaragoza have implemented inspiring projects and initiatives on ageing. Within the ESPON targeted analysis 'ACPA-Adapting European cities to population ageing: policy challenges and best 'practices, researchers have produced a policy handbook that provides examples of such initiatives, including details of transferability, means of implementation and policy impacts. The policy handbook Supporting the WHO's decade of healthy and inclusive urban ageing is available in six languages (Dutch, English, French, Norwegian, Spanish and Swedish).

“Being ambitious and facilitating healthy and inclusive ageing is the starting point in the formulation of long-term strategies on ageing”

ESPON recommends a flexible, tailor-made approach  to policy development related to ageing. We do not all age in the same way: old people are not a homogeneous group. Different groups may be at greater risk of disadvantage and may not have the opportunity to age well because of their ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, etc.

Raise awareness across the whole of society of what ageing means and how it can be supported. Commissioner Dubravka 'uica, in her opening speech at the ESPON Conference Week on Ageing 2020, said that ageing is also about embracing opportunities.

More than ever, user involvement is key to developing age-friendly cities and territories in line with people's needs. This requires the regular consultation of older people about their wishes and needs.

Ageing should be a subject on all sectoral agendas; the European Council’s Conclusions on mainstreaming ageing in public policies are promising in that respect.

Piera Petruzzi is Senior Project Expert European Outreach and Targeted Analyses at ESPON EGTC

This article appears in Rural areas: an eye to the future

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