Budget 2015: Government needs to focus on elderly, says HelpAge India report
By 2050, there will be 324 million citizens over the age of 60 in India, while 48 million of them will be over 80. While the government focuses on supporting the youth, expecting them to contribute to the economy, there is very little support for those who already have. HelpAge India’s report on the State of Elderly in India 2014, is meant to convince the government that this group needs attention and, therefore, budgetary allocation.
“We met finance minister Arun Jaitlev asking for more allocation for elderly and he told us they don’t have enough money ,” said Mathew Cherian , CEO, HelpAge. He pointed out that Nepal, Thailand and even Afghanistan supports larger sections of their elderly than India, whose schemes cover only 25 per cent of the eligible population. “Eight percent of India’s population needs support and social security. This is the fastest-growing demographic segment,” Cherian said. As per HelpAge’s estimates, the population of 80+ is growing the fastest at 700 per cent.
The breaking-up of the joint family system has re moved the one safety net the elderly had, and the government hasn’t stepped in either. Also, the respect for the elderly that it had fostered is also declining leading to increasing cases of abuse. “Police say they are picking up retired bureaucrats and retired judges from the streets. These may be cases of dementia but the number of the aged destitute is increasing,” Cherian said.
“The population will be stable by 2021-23, but the number of the old is growing. Putting it harshly, the group gives nothing to the economy but needs to be sustained by it,” said retired bureaucrat Bhaskar Ghose, adding, “I have not yet seen any thought given to it in a consistent way at any level of authority . The society’s responsibility and duty must reflect in the policy.”
The existing policy isn’t much. The Centre’s Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme allows Rs 200 per month to those above 60 living below the poverty line.
“Though there is a proposal to increase it to Rs 300, its nothing more than an insult. It should be a minimum of Rs 2000,” Cherian said. Some states offer an additional pension that ranges from Rs 100 to Rs 2,000 per month but the eligibility criteria differs. But it’s not imperative for the states to support. Vice-chairman of HelpAge’s governing body retired IAS officer PC Sen, explains, “In high bureaucratese they’ve given free reign to the state to do nothing and it does nothing.”
When asked, the elderly said “free treatment” followed by healthcare, financial aid and pension scheme tops their requirement agenda. Insurance companies are reluctant to cover those above 80+ and awareness of the public insurance scheme-Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojna (RSBY, again for BPL families)–is very low with only 5.4 per cent of respondents aware of it.
“Most of India’s destitute elders still have to work in order to survive. Budgets bring only slim relief to senior tax payers and that’s where the thinking stops,” said Manjira Khurana, HelpAge’s country head for advocacy and communications.