India’s elderly: Unacknowledged victims of the economic slowdown

Next only to China in size, India’s 103 million elderly citizens (60 years and above) remain largely neglected and in the grip of myriad insecurities exacerbated by the changing economic and social realities.

A leading cause for distress and lack of empowerment among the elderly is economic vulnerability. And making an already vulnerable financial situation worse for the elderly is a slowing economy and rising prices, finds a new survey.

‘Status of Older Persons in Delhi and the National Capital Region’ was conducted between September and October by Agewell Foundation and interviewed 15000 elderly people from rural and urban settings on a variety of issues.

 India’s elderly: Unacknowledged victims of the economic slowdown

In the 60-70 age-group, 30 percent are without an income. Reuters

The survey finds that more than 80 percent of those interviewed believed that the economy was in bad shape and getting worse.

According the survey report, “A large numbers of elder people have started making radical changes such as getting gainful occupational engagements, reducing their expenses on recreational facilities and luxuries.”

Rising prices have pushed many into desperation with 33 percent of those interviewed admitting to having trouble paying for ‘food, fuel, utilities and medicine’. Himanshu Rath, chairman, Agewell Foundation, says, “Almost everybody wants to have a job after retirement. There are very few who don’t want to work. Cost of living has shot up. Inflation is high. Those who are riding with the crest are fine. But someone who retired ten years ago, his savings have remained the same. And the interest rates have gone down. This disturbs the overall plan for the elderly and so it has become difficult.”

Those who put their life’s saving in the stock market have been badly hit. “About 65 percent of the respondents in this survey own stocks individually or through mutual funds and over 84 percent say they have lost money on these accounts during the last four years. As a result of these losses 64 percent percent of these investors have changed their investment strategy to include more or less risk, such as fixed deposits, nationasl savings certificates, Kisan Vikas Patra and other government sectors saving-cum-investment schemes,” as per the survey report.

A break-up of the financial status of the elderly age-wise shows that those in the 80-plus age-group have the highest number – 36 per cent - with no income. In the 60-70 age-group, 30 percent are without an income.

According to the survey, 65 percent of the elderly in the Delhi-NCR region live on the borderline of poverty, earning Rs 1 lakh per or less annum. As per the report “35 per cent of older persons living in Delhi and NCR have monthly income of more than Rs 10,000.”

There seems to be no functional framework – never mind the announcement of the national policy on older persons in 1999 and its subsequent relegation to the deep freeze – that would be necessary to respond in a comprehensive and responsible manner to the needs of India’s elderly.

The senior citizens are slotted under Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, competing for attention alongside a long list of disadvantaged groups that include – Scheduled Castes, Socially and Educationally Backward Classes, Denotified Tribes, Economically Backward Classes, manual scavengers, beggars, victims of alcohol and substance abuse. The result, little or no attention is paid to their needs.

A national fund, a self-employed scheme, an institution for promotion of entrepreneurship for the aged are some of recommendations Rath makes for creating not only economic security but more importantly financial opportunities for the elderly to empower themselves.

Read the full survey report here.

Status of Old People in Delhi-NCR - Sept-Oct 2012

Updated Date: Nov 16, 2012 22:04:10 IST