Teach me how, I will fish: There is an urgent need to re-engage the elderly population

October 3, 2020 3:17 PM

Reserve Bank data on employment indicates that only 6 per cent of the workforce in India is in the organised sector. This includes nearly 2 crore people who are in government.

The burden of ageing is being squarely experienced across the world.

By Arun Varma

The problem is not that fewer people are born and fewer people die, compared to the second half of the previous century. Nor is it that big a problem that global food security stands threatened because of the dwindled contribution of the older individuals. The problem is that each extended day of life costs money. And, sustainable means for this have to be found. This is a problem that is certainly going to haunt lower and middle income countries, if it has not already begun.

The burden of ageing is being squarely experienced across the world. Negligible or low productivity of this segment coupled with higher cost of maintenance of their activities of daily living (ADL) have an economic impact. While higher income countries (HIC) have the advantage of lower population and higher per capital earning, the situation threatens to pull down development and prosperity of middle income and low income countries, unless quick measures are put in place. India is fully qualified for the second category.

Estimates, in general, point to greater than 20 per cent of the World population to be beyond the age of 65 and thus qualify as “aged” by 2050. In absolute number, this is over 2.2 billion (220 crores) of people. In India, the number is expected to be over 25 crore. The challenge before the country is to develop a “Silver Economy,” that can bolster provide an “acceptable” standards of life to this segment.

Reserve Bank data on employment indicates that only 6 per cent of the workforce in India is in the organised sector. This includes nearly 2 crore people who are in government. Rest are in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors of employment ranging from farm labour to trade, hotel, transport and the like. Which implies that a mirror image could be applied on to those who are ‘elderly’, leaving only `1.5 crore people in the economic safety net. How can the remaining 23 crore or more people spend their lives’ evening?

As in any other welfare measure, the State has to take the lead. Government is somewhat sensitized about the issue. However, there is lack of evidence about how much India realises that it could “grow old before rich.’ Challenges of population ageing are directly attributable to the diminishing economic contribution and expanding list of needs – aids and devices to conduct the daily activities, increased probability of medication and medical care. Therefore, the burden of meeting such expenses falls on the family or the State.

Nevertheless, the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act – popularly known as the Elderly Care Act – has been revised to address recurring issues of abandonment, abuse and forceful takeover of possessions of the target group.

More needs to be done. There must be a system for financial independence. This is important as people live longer than before. The Long Term Care Insurance (LTCI) program of Japan has worked marvels to that society. LTCI is a co-payment and compulsory program that mandates every working individual has to register and contribute towards his ripe year expenses as s/he turns 40. Based on the cumulative contribution made, the citizen is free to choose the kind of old age homes s/he wants to retire into. Old age home developers can register themselves with the respective prefectures and offer the services to citizens. LTCI will reimburse the cost to them. Perhaps, the Senior Citizens Saving Scheme (SCSS) or Pradhan Mantri Vaya Vandana Yojana (PMVVY) could be restructured with the inputs from the Insurance Regulatory Authority for wider participation of private insurance companies.

Second requirement is to aid the aged to get back to contribute through silver economy. There have been any number of cases where the semi-skilled and skilled manpower retire premature as they lack the medical devices and support to continue in the trade. The country is squandering its rich pool of artisans and craftsmen such as tailors, artisans in the leather industry, handicrafts, when they are forced to withdraw from their livelihood owing to vision or hearing impairment. By widening the scope of already running programs like National Program for Control of Blindness (NPCB), it may be possible to bring a significant chunk of such workmen to extend their productivity. With little imagination, the Rashtriya Vayoshri Yojana (RVY) could widen its current scope to establish links with the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC) for their Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) program.

Third is to re-skill the aged. Make no mistake. No elderly person is walking into death. If re-skilled or up skilled, they could regain their dignity and zest. India specific, this is all the more critical as the country is not prepared to manage the elderly population, that is going to be a fifth of the total people. Over and above the support extended by the State – through various monetary assistance programs – the aged individual would appreciate it better if a way can be shown to him to earn and live. With dignity, of course.

(Arun Varma is the Managing Director and CEO of Winage™. Views expressed are personal.)

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