New Delhi: By the year 2050 more than one fifth of India’s population will be over 60 and there will be a five-fold increase in those above 70 and 80 by 2026. A Needs Assessment Study among the urban elderly carried out by HelpAge India across the four metros of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, and non metros of Lucknow, Vijaywada, Bhubaneshwar and Ahmedabad found that the plight of the elderly is worse in the metros as compared to their non metro counterparts.
A shocking 87% of those above 60 had no health insurance and out of the 13% who did, only 2% depended on it to support their health needs, turning instead to children for support and care.
And how do children fare in a society where traditionally its social anathema to send parents packing to old age homes? With the younger generation migrating to bigger cities in India and to international destinations, parents are increasingly being left on their own.
With more than 50% seniors being illiterate across the chosen cities they were unaware of their basic rights and claims. Only 32% ended up availing pensions and support of any kind, contributing to a high percentage (62%) being dependant on remittance from offspring. Also, increasing inflation and poorer health indicators made their need for a support system stronger. 42% in the sample group were found to be in poor health with women needing greater medical intervention and care. As many as 30% were afflicted with chronic hypertension, diabetes and arthritis and 62% of them had chosen not to consult doctors on a consistent basis
Elders dependent on children in non metros (76%) were better looked after than those living in metros (64%) although Delhi was an exception with 86% being accorded greater care and support and Chennai registering the lowest with only 52.7% being adequately cared for by children.
Ironically, elders in non metros seemed to enjoy better health (40%) than those living in metros (28%). The social community structures that prevailed in smaller cities and towns through large extended families, neighbours and the community provided a more secure safety net, that was found missing in metros. 42% seniors in larger cities expressed fear and anxiety at stepping out of the house alone and since majority were couped up in apartments, living in nuclear families with working children, the feeling of confinement, being trapped and helpless was far more pronounced than for those living in tier II and tier III cities.
Irrespective of socio-economic backgrounds and gender, private hospitals were a preferred option with only 6% patronizing state-run health facilities. Even those who retired from the Armed Forces or government service expressed keenness to avail of services in private nursing homes which were within walking range and were open 24 X 7, not binding them to timings, snaking queues and the filling out of multiple forms.
A second study funded by the Canadian High Commission for HelpAge on Rights Based Advocacy for Disadvantaged Elders pointed out that almost none of the central schemes for the elderly such as the Annapurna programme that makes available 10 kg rice free of cost through the public distribution system and the National Old Age Pension Scheme that provides social security support of Rs400 per month, were reaching senior citizens in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. Not only this, more than 60% of them were not even aware of their entitlements, forget availing what was their rightful due.
Mathew Cherian, chief executive, HelpAge strongly advocated that the Right to Information Act be used more vigorously for follow up on disruptions in pension schemes and getting various licences issued and said that the NGO would step up its IEC (Information, Education and Communication) initiatives.