For debate in the Standing Committee — see Rule 15 of the Rules of Procedure

Doc. 9894

8 September 2003

Rights of elderly migrants

Opinion

Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee

Rapporteur for opinion : Mrs Vermot-Mangold, Switzerland, Socialist Group

I.       Conclusions of the committee

1.       Elderly migrants represent a particularly vulnerable part of the population both as elders with their specific needs, and as ethnic minority with racial, cultural, religious or linguistic differences. The Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee therefore fully supports the issues raised in the report of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography on rights of elderly migrants.

2.       The situation of the elderly has been of concern to the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee for many years. In the report of Mr Hancock, which led to Recommendation 1428 (1999), the Committee made a number of proposals with regard to protection of senior citizens against various threats (delinquency, physical and psychological ill treatment, abuse of trust, etc.), their participation in the society through active ageing and with regard to respect for individual dignity and the image of the elderly in society. The report also highlighted the importance for the member states to implement the European Social Charter (revised) and its 1988 protocol, article 4 which is specifically devoted to elderly people.

3.       The issue of pension reform and incentives for active ageing in good health were raised more recently in Recommendation 1591(2003) on “Challenges of social policy in Europe’s ageing societies”. The Committee considered that, while ensuring financial viability of pensions systems, the threat of extreme poverty and loss of dignity for elderly had to be minimised by maintaining the basic system of solidarity through state pensions or by incorporating a basic pension scheme in the reformed pensions systems. The Committee was also concerned that “flexible” types of employment (short term contracts, irregular employment, precarious types of self-employment, etc.) should be regulated to ensure social coverage. Migrant workers are very often particularly concerned by this issue.

4.       In his report, Mr Nessa rightly points out the problem of transfer of pension rights, which represents a vital question for many elderly migrants. According to the statistics of the European Union, already five million EU citizens nowadays live in a member state different from the one in which they were born and pension “portability” will therefore strongly affect their lives after work. These numbers are set to increase.

5.       Current discussions in the Pension Forum amongst the member states of the European Union focus on how acquired pension rights can become transferable between countries. European Community law does not provide any principles in this respect. Opinions differ on ways and means to solve this issue since rules applying to individual pension funds can differ widely within the EU. For instance, in some cases rights can not be transferred between funds within the same country, let alone funds located in different countries. Other issues have also come up, such as the cost of transferring pension rights, the assessment of rights and tax impediments. The Forum has tackled a number of these issues but a great many unresolved problems remain.

6.       Harmonising the transfer of pension rights at the level of 45 member states of the Council of Europe yet remains to be addressed. The Committee therefore fully supports the recommendation to the Committee of Ministers to call on member states to ensure the portability of full pension rights for migrant workers, wherever they decide to take up residence (item 4 ii c).

7.       Social integration, ageing in good health and respect for individual dignity are equally important issues to be tackled. The elderly migrant population is vulnerable to dual discrimination, both as elderly and as migrants. A UK based non governmental organisation “Age Concern” provides a very good example for services that aim to accommodate the needs of ethnic minority elders as part of the wider community, taking into account their racial, cultural, religious and linguistic differences.

8.       Local branches of Age concern provide a number of different services throughout the UK which promote social contact including day centres, pop-ins, lunch clubs and visiting schemes. In partnership with the welfare service they provide advice on issues ranging from housing and homelessness to health and social care. Projects have also developed to provide social facilities, clubs, outings and an outreach befriending service to the lonely and housebound.

9.       Elderly migrants are also an important resource. In partnership with the key statutory health and social care services, Age Concern has trained teams of older volunteers from mixed cultural and religious backgrounds to act as senior health mentors within their ethnic minority communities. Volunteers are also being targeted in the various communities to act as mentors for recently arrived refugee families and to assist school children in the area. For example, at the Age concern Camden office, a number of volunteers from the Asian, Chinese, Japanese and South American communities provide numeracy and literacy support to children and young people from a broad mix of ethnic origins at schools and after school clubs.

10.       The importance of voluntary work in this field can not be over-stated. The Rapporteur for opinion therefore recalls Recommendation 1496 (2001) on “improving the status and role of volunteers in society” calling on member states to seek to identify and eliminate, in their laws and practice, any obstacles which directly or indirectly prevent people from engaging in voluntary action, to earmark budgetary and other resources to support voluntary initiatives, and to give voluntary workers legal status and adequate social protection.

II.       Amendments to the draft recommendation in document 9884

11.       The Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee would like to propose the following amendments:

Amendment 1

In paragraph 4 ii, after indent e. introduce a new sub-paragraph as follows:

“- take into consideration in particular the growing problems of dependence (alcohol, drugs, etc.) of elderly migrants and apply adequate therapies;”.

Amendment 2

In paragraph 4 ii, after indent i. introduce a new sub-paragraph as follows:

“- promote partnerships with non governmental organisations and support voluntary initiatives, particularly by earmarking budgetary and other resources and by granting voluntary workers legal status and adequate social protection;”.

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Reporting Committee: Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography (Doc. 9884)

Committee for opinion: Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee

Reference to Committee: No. 2730, Doc. 9443

Opinion approved by the Committee on 5 September 2003

Secretariat to the Committee: Mr Mezei, Mrs Meunier, Mrs Karanjac, Mr Chahbazian