COPE Galway this week launched their 2019 Annual Report, where they revealed that in 2019, they responded to the needs of 2,984 people in Galway who were experiencing homelessness, domestic abuse, and older people in need of social and nutritional support. This is a 20% increase on the numbers supported by the local organisation the year before.
Online attendees at the launch heard from service managers who gave an overview of the impact of COPE Galway’s work during 2019 across its services for homelessness, domestic abuse and senior support.
The charity gave particular focus to their work with older people in our communities, many of whom may experience loneliness and isolation, compounded recently with restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The restrictions that have related to over-70s in particular, have placed older people in our community in the spotlight. Some public commentary during this time has revealed ageist attitudes, inappropriately biased language and ageist terms within certain contexts.
'Our human rights do not diminish with age'
Keynote speaker at the launch, Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, UN Special Rapporteur on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights, gave a stirring address, emphasising how our human rights do not diminish with age. She acknowledged how COPE Galway has brought attention to the specific needs and rights of older people, while at the same time affirming an older person’s autonomy and dignity.
“This is evident”, she said, “when one understands that not only are older people an important group supported by COPE Galway, but that the volunteer community - the heartbeat of COPE Galway’s work - are significantly made up of older adults”.
COPE Galway CEO, Jacquie Horan, speaking at the launch said, “Today, we want to highlight the valuable contribution older people offer our communities when, too often, old age can be seen as a burden. We want to change the narrative, to “flip the script” and to focus on the invaluable support and contribution older people offer. While COVID-19 has been important in prioritising safety, there have been some consequential effects we hadn’t anticipated and need to address”.
Ms Horan referred to recent research by NUIG’s Professor Kieran Walsh that cites concerning evidence where older people are portrayed as “mass consumers of valuable and limited resources” that block treatment for younger, healthier and seemingly ‘more productive’ individuals. “This devalues the status of older people as equal citizens and the perceived value that we place on their contributions, and their lives, in our society.”
The importance of volunteers
Ms Horan expressed gratitude to the many older people who have chosen a volunteering path with which to keep active and connected. With 31% of COPE Galway weekly volunteers over-65 and 18% over-70, COPE Galway relies on older people to volunteer on a weekly basis.
“Being active and engaged is an important way for older people to stay connected and well. The World Health Organisation (WHO ) sees healthy ageing as helping build societies that are cohesive, peaceful, just, secure and sustainable. Older people present invaluable contributions to society in terms of wisdom and experience, along with practical supports like volunteering and childminding.
“Occasionally, the story of our ageing population is presented as one of costs, especially those related to health issues. Yet, according to the WHO, the contributions older people make through taxation, consumer spending and other economically valuable activities are worth billions more than the expenditure on older people through pensions, welfare and health care combined.
'They wish to be able to live independently and healthily'
“There is a consensus among older people in our community that they wish to be able to live independently and healthily in their own homes for as long as possible. COPE Galway contributed to making this possible for over 700 people in 2019 by providing vital nutritional, social and practical supports through their senior support service.
Jacquie Horan concluded saying “as a global society, there are more and more of us experiencing the privilege of ageing.
By 2050, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO ), 22% of our global population will be over 60. The determinants of healthy ageing are many and varied and relate to individuals and environments. Achieving equal access to healthy ageing requires concerted global, national and local action – and a decisive end to ageist attitudes.”