There is now a conscious recognition that a society has a responsibility to care for all of its citizens, from childhood to old age. But given a choice, most societies are more prepared to put resources into rearing the next generation as compared to catering for the aged. The increasing demand placed by the aged on common resources conflicts with other societal objectives and creates the predicament of pitting the needs of the young against those of the old.
In the light of the International Plan of Action on Aging of the United Nations, governments are encouraged to take into account the following priorities: provision of basic services for all, including the elderly; specific policies and programmes focusing on the elderly must recognize both the humanitarian needs and the human resource potential of the aged; policies to promote the developmental and humanitarian needs of the aged must focus on the family and community as indivisible units; the use of the elderly as a societal resource must be predicated upon their involvement and participation in the development of policies and programmes affecting them; expanding economic opportunities for the elderly must not be seen to imply contracting opportunities for the young, when they can be mutually reinforcing.
Article 23 of the European Social Charter (Revised) (Strasbourg 1996) provides: With a view to ensuring the effective exercise of the right of elderly persons to social protection, the Parties undertake to adopt or encourage, either directly or in co-operation with public or private organisations, appropriate measures designed in particular: 1) to enable elderly persons to remain full members of society for as long as possible, by means of: a) adequate resources enabling them to lead a decent life and play an active part in public, social and cultural life; b) provision of information about services and facilities available for elderly persons and their opportunities to make use of them; 2) to enable elderly persons to choose their life-style freely and to lead independent lives in their familiar surroundings for as long as they wish and are able, by means of: a) provision of housing suited to their needs and their state of health or of adequate support for adapting their housing; b) the health care and the services necessitated by their state; 3) to guarantee elderly persons living in institutions appropriate support, while respecting their privacy, and participation in decisions concerning living conditions in the institution.
The number of older people in the human settlements of the world in both the developed and developing countries is increasing dramatically. Senior citizens are a valuable human resource – as much in the economic and social fields as in the transmission of cultural heritage. The vast experience of the ageing can be employed for the betterment of society. Good health throughout the life-span of every man and woman is fundamental to ensuring that people of all ages are able to develop their full capacities in health and dignity and to participate fully in the social, economic and political processes of human settlements, thus contributing, inter alia, to the eradication of poverty.