It is every student’s, every working adult’s or retiree’s guess that Mauritius like the rest of the world has an ageing population. By the time of writing there are at least 220,000 fellow citizens over 60. Among them are a large chunk of 60 and above and who will still be alive for another 20 years or more. We hereby acknowledge the standard of living, awareness of a ‘hygiène de vie’ and medical progress which have contributed to this positive phenomenon. Clearly the challenges are many.

The case for a Ministry of the Elderly

We have moved from a large umbrella of Social Security, National Solidarity and Reforms Institutions to a very large one, the Ministry of Social Security, National Solidarity, & Environment & Sustainable Development. The one port-folio of social security covers a host of areas, inter alia, widows and orphans (pension, school materials), allocation for the spouses of prisoners,  ‘allowance’ to cyclone victims, domestic violence, and older people’s health, abuse, ageism, housing, violence, monthly pensions, their life-long learning process, long term and palliative care…

The Ministry of Environment has in parallel a large gamut of tasks to attend.

Back in 2012 and still later in 2018 public opinion in Britain expressed the need for a Ministry of the Elderly . (Ref. The Guardian, 27.02.2012, 18.01.2018). Although old age is universal its characteristic is heterogeneous. Which makes the challenges even more pressing. Some are old, others are very old and of both genders. Culturally they are different and require dedicated attention conducive to what they deserve. Not in all circumstances can they be given a blanket policy, not to say a winter blanket.

Need for a champion

A champion is first and foremost a strong voice in Parliament, among the people, (elderly and the rest), and in the media. She or he has a plan of action, resources and programmes which go beyond a gathering on Old People’s Days, beyond a three day stay in a recreational center on the coast. There are major areas of concern for older people which we have been gathering in the course of our encounters: financial insecurity, harassment from close ones to inherit property, housing (space shared by three generations in a household), health which includes palliative and long term care. Not every body can afford to access a residential care home and when she or he succeeds it begs the question: is the person happier in a home than she or he would have been in her own home. In the same context, it would not be superfluous to give some thinking to housing of the elderly in view of climatic change and following natural catastrophe.

The champion/minister could influence policy in matters of abuse, violence (moral, physical and emotional), neglect in the older persons’ own home and in residential care homes. The policy would include strategy to address social isolation (in the family, ageist attitude), among fellow citizens, in places of work ( the elderly have the right to work with decent conditions including pay packet). Also the Ministry would address the problem of loneliness from home to work via public services.

Ministry of Loneliness?

A Ministry of Loneliness has been created in Britain (Jan. 2018) to precisely address this issue of loneliness. An elder person has the weight of loneliness on his shoulders when she or he is not addressed at home. The weight that hangs on the shoulders of an older person who lives alone is comparable. But we need to have a Ministry whose scope goes far beyond loneliness.

For example, it will have to ‘solve’ the digital divide to which our elderly   are completely foreign. The case of the 83 old  lady who is ‘ learning ‘ computer studies is to be structured and follow-up ensured. It does not suffice to say so many older persons have ‘learnt the computer’, how many are using it and have forgotten it. Feedback exercise has to be made, can the elderly person fill an application form on-line, can she/he walk to the next post-office to do so? Does she/he know the power of attorney?

The issues regarding older people are cross-cutting and will remain so unless a dedicated Ministry would start streamlining for the purpose of clarity for all stakeholders, Ministers and members of Parliament, private sector, civil society, and the youth.

In the same breath, a dedicated Ministry would have expressed its views on the stand of the country having regard to the AU Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Older Persons in Africa approved in January 2016.

I’d like to imagine the Ministry of the Elderly would have its place in Cabinet as is for the Ministry of Youth and Sports.

Vijay Naraidoo
President of the Commission for the Rights of Older People of DIS-MOI

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