Population ageing is a serious challenge for many European countries. According to recent data, 20% of the EU population is above 65. However this is likely to reach 30% by 2070 with the rate of people over 80 expected to reach 13% – a significant increase affecting European societies and economies.
Lower birth rates and increased life span will bring a substantial demographic change in Europe with the number of those in working age decreasing compared with those who retire. Moreover, this trend is expected to rise in the next decades influencing notably Europe’s economy, but also labour market, social protection systems and their capacities to ensure good living standards and healthy ageing for all. Now is time to build resilient economies and health and social protection systems which can meet the needs of all population groups and provide them with the optimal conditions for healthy and active ageing.
However, healthy ageing is a complex issue depending on multiple social determinants of health and it requires substantial investment in many policy areas to tackle persistent disparities in employment and working conditions, education and lifelong training, access to decent and affordable housing, as well as healthcare and good quality prevention measures. EPHA, in it’s response to the consultation on the European Commission green paper on healthy ageing highlights how this process must start from the earliest years to enable individuals and communities to achieve the highest standards of health, which in turn will enable them to achieve their potential and contribute to boosting Europe’s durable economic growth. Building strong and resilient public health systems working towards health equity and social fairness whilst improving the accessibility of the labour market with a focus on people in a disadvantaged situation is essential for advancing socio-economic inclusion within the EU.
This could not happen if many population groups such as ethnic minorities, including Roma, prisoners, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, people with disabilities, homeless persons, LGBTQI+ are left behind. Such groups are disproportionately affected by poor health, both physical and mental, rooted in systemic inequalities in access to rights and services, including employment, increasing their vulnerability to poverty and social exclusion, preventing them from ageing into healthy and fulfilling lives.
Comprehensive policy measures promoting better prioritisation of health in EU and national policies based on synergies between social policies, urbanism, food and agriculture, the digital and green agendas, contributes to reducing disparities between and within countries in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Specific attention must be paid to persistent gender and intersectional inequalities increasing further the health and social divide across Europe affecting people’s capacity to access employment and social protection services. Holistic policies addressing healthcare and prevention, employment, education and lifelong learning, but also social protection are pivotal for eradicating inequalities between the generations and different population groups, and enabling everyone to live healthier lives.