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Source: Human Rights Commission

Disability Rights Commissioner, Paula Tesoriero, welcomes the release of the preliminary findings of the UN Independent Expert on the human rights of older persons, Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, today and looks forward to giving her recommendations careful consideration. 

“The UN expert has affirmed many of the issues we know to be significant challenges to the human rights of older persons in New Zealand. The Government should give Ms Kornfeld-Matte’s recommendations careful consideration,” says Paula Tesoriero, Disability Rights Commissioner.

Ms Kornfeld-Matte’s findings come after a 10-day investigation where she met with representatives from government, the Human Rights Commission and similar independent bodies, civil society organisations, NGOs, human rights experts, aged care providers and care workers, and a wide range of older people. 

“We have seen a high level of enthusiasm and interest in her visit, with strong, supportive engagement from both government, civil society organisations and individuals. Many people raised the issues faced by older people: financial instability, elder abuse and neglect, insufficient aged care resources, and the social isolation suffered by many older people.” 

In her end of mission statement, Ms Kornfeld-Matte commended the New Zealand Government for its commitment and initiatives, to improve the human rights situation of older persons and encouraged the Government to make its pledge a reality including the Better Later Life – He Oranga Kaumātua 2019 to 2034 Strategy, 

She also called for action to address the number of older persons facing material hardship, structural biases in the health care system, particularly towards older Māori and Pasifika  persons, elder abuse and cautioned against framing the discussion of social inequality as a generational divide. 

“We agree with Ms Kornfeld-Matte that these are serious human rights issues, which require attention from government. While work is underway, greater urgency is needed,” said the Disability Rights Commissioner.

The UN expert commented that as the proportion of older persons grows, so too will those in need of flexible and reliable long-term care. Unless the government adopts substantial measures, the current shortage of long-term care workers will only increase.  

“New Zealand’s ageing population are entitled to supports that that  maintain independence and dignity including specialist services for older people. But New Zealand has a shortage of qualified health and support workers, and social support systems are underfunded, relying heavily on volunteers and family carers,” explained Paula Tesoriero.

We need to value older persons and those supporting them,  “and support for carers is not readily available. Carers spoke about feeling pushed to the breaking point, and not being able to deliver appropriate care to the older people they work with. A greater focus is needed to address this growing issue.”

Ms Kornfeld-Matte heard that Māori have the poorest health of any New Zealand group, and die on average 7 – 8 years earlier. Pacific peoples also have disproportionately poorer health outcomes. “As New Zealanders continue to age, culturally appropriate aged care services must be made available to provide care and support for older people and their whanau and families,” says Tesoriero.

Her visit was organised by the Government, and her investigation is independent of the Human Rights Commission. The Office for Seniors, Human Rights Commission, Age Concern and others helped to develop the schedule for Ms Kornfeld-Matte’s meetings with non-government agencies and individuals in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Timaru. 

Ms Kornfeld-Matte suggested establishing an independent national commissioner on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons. “We would be open to further discussions about establishing an independent commissioner on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons at the Human Rights Commission,” says Tesoriero. 

The Chief Human Rights Commissioner, Paul Hunt, currently holds the Older Persons portfolio at the Human Rights Commission. However, he is currently out of the country.