The ups and downs in pensioner's paradise

India is home to the second largest number of elderly people in the world.

While most of us dream of being surrounded by our loved ones in our sunset years, the truth is that in most cases it remains a distant dream! Population ageing in developing countries is rapid than in the developed regions. In 2013, 55.8 per cent of the world’s elderly were in Asia, which is also home to 48.3 per cent of the world’s oldest people, a percentage that is expected to increase in the next half century. Not many know that the second largest number of the elderly people in the entire world live in India. Simply put, India is home to 104 million elderly persons as per the 2011 population census – 53 million females and 51 million males.

Thanks to modern economic conditions and reduced fertility rates, the elderly population has been growing – an increase from 5.6 per cent of the population in 1961 to 8.6 per cent in 2011, both in rural and urban areas. More than 71 per cent of the elderly population in India live in the rural areas. While the sex ratio in the general population is not in favour of females, however it is highly in favour of females among the elderly population. It is a welcoming trend that the life expectancy in the country has increased significantly over the years. Between the periods of 1970-75 to 2009-13, it increased from 48 years to 66.3 years in the rural areas, while in urban areas it increased from 58.9 years to 71.2 years.

Taking about long life, one needs to know that there are some unique problems that come with old age, which worsen due to the speed of socio-economic transformation. The needs and problems of elderly vary according to their age, socio-economic status, health and living status among other things. For instance, literacy rates differ widely among elderly in rural and urban areas. After 70 years of age, more than 60 per cent of women tend to become widows. There are medical conditions, such as, the prevalence of heart diseases, which was seen to be high among elderly men and women, and much higher in urban than in rural areas, and urinary problems common among elderly men. A majority of the elderly women suffered from joint problems, in addition to disabilities such as locomotor disability and visual disability.

For elderly who live with their families, which remains the predominant living arrangement, economic security and well-being depends on the economic capacity of the family’s caregiver. Informal support systems of family, kinship and community are considered as able to provide social security to elderly. However, urbanisation, industrialisation and globalisation have contributed towards changing of traditional norms and values within society. This has contributed towards gradual nuclearisation of the joint family system, changes in value systems and migration of youth to urban areas for economic activity. All this has affected the situation of older persons in India, many of whom particularly in rural areas have come to depend on the 'money-order economy', with intimacy with children only from a distance. There are many physiological, economic, emotional and interpersonal facets of ageing, which influence the well-being of elderly in different ways. The old age dependency ratio – the number of elderly persons for every 100 working-age persons has risen from 10.9 per cent in 1961 to 14.2 per cent in 2011.

There is considerable difference between rural and urban areas, which could be due to higher concentration of working age persons in urban areas. A majority (65 per cent) of the elderly have to depend on others for their day-to-day maintenance, worse for elderly females with only about 14 per cent and 17 per cent being economically independent in rural and urban areas. In contrast, 51 per cent and 56 per cent of elderly males in rural and urban areas were independent. Of them, more than 90 per cent were living with one or more dependents, while for elderly women who were independent, 65 per cent had one or more dependents.

Given that population ageing in India is increasing, focus on ageing is necessary and measures need to be taken to improve the quality of life of elderly in general, and elderly women in particular. As large and complex India is, there needs to be an extensive plan for the well-being of the elderly. Older poor who are occupied in the informal or unorganised sector face difficulties with regard to employment, income and lack of access to social security and affordable healthcare. Lack of suitable housing facilities forces many elderly to live in slums, which lack the basic facilities they need. While rural India continues to provide family support in old age, globalisation has contributed to increasing migration trends. Thus, it is important that elderly be provided with social security through schemes such as old age pension, widow's pension, and pension for informal sector workers.

There are schemes but the proportion of elderly who benefit from them has to be considerably improved. The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 was initiated to offer need-based maintenance for parents and senior citizens and their welfare. The National Policy on Older Persons (NPOP) 1999 ensures state support towards the well-being of older persons with regard to financial and food security, health care, shelter and other needs towards improving the quality of life of elderly. Though policy and programmes to focus on elderly issues exist, efforts are needed to effectively implement them and improve the coverage of benefits among the needy elderly. Importantly, for the future, the needs are to create the conditions that can foster positive ageing. Positive ageing includes many aspects from how it is seen to the social security measures that are created towards providing for the better quality of life of the elderly. Although ageing is the ‘triumph of development’, the “challenges is to provide opportunities for people to age with dignity and security, enjoying life through the full realisation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms” (United Nations Population Fund and HelpAge International, 2012). In the light of the current situation of the elderly in our society, much deliberation is required to make provisions for facilitating the ageing population to actualize their right to be active and experienced an optimal quality of life.

(The author is the deputy director at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad Campus, Telangana)

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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