New Delhi: India needs to devise appropriate social and economic policies to allow the rapid increase in the number of elderly, who will make up as much as a fifth of the population by the middle of this century, a report by HelpAge India said on Friday.
Although India will be the youngest country in the world by 2020 with a median age of 29 years, the number of elderly people is likely to increase significantly after that, according to the 2014 State of Elderly in India report released by the non-profit organization.
By 2021, the elderly in the country will number 143 million, the report said. Presently, the elderly in divided into three categories: the young old (60-70) the middle-aged old (70-80) and the oldest old (80 plus).
The increase in life expectancy over the years has resulted in an increase in the population of the elderly. While the overall population of India will grow by 40% between 2006 and 2050, the population of those aged 60 and above will increase by 270%.
Out of this, the oldest old segment, which is the most vulnerable on account of suffering from disabilities, diseases, terminal illness and dementia, is also the largest growing segment of the elderly population, at a rate of 500%. The increasing population of the elderly is “a development concern that warrants priority attention for economic and social policies to become senior citizen-friendly,” the report said.
The report was prompted by the elderly population crossing the 100-million mark in 2014, out of which 51 million live below the poverty line. It draws the attention of policy makers to the “dichotomy of the happy picture of increased longevity and the prospect of long years of hopelessness, bereft of family, society or state support”.
Out of the people interviewed for it, 18% were state government pensioners, 9% were central government pensioners, 26% were homemakes, and 4% were skilled labourers. “Our report is based on interactions with a very well-distributed sample across India,” said Mathew Cherian, chief executive, HelpAge India.
The elderly constitute 8% of the population today and need support from the government for schemes and pensions that will enable them to live a life of dignity, he said. “We spent 0.032% of our GDP on pensions. When we talk in terms of coverage, what are we looking at? India has 25% coverage by its own records. Nepal covers 47% of its population, China 74%,” Cherian said.
“It’s a crying shame,” said P.C. Sen, vice-chairman of the governing body of HelpAge India.
The government has formulated the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension, under which it provides a paltry amount of Rs.200 to the elderly belonging to poor families. It has asked state governments to share this responsibility though the level of implementation varies. “In certain states it can so happen that the pension is handed out once every six months,” said Cherian.
But as former judge Leela Seth, who was present at the report’s launch, pointed out that there are also states like Goa that give Rs.2,000 as a universal pension under the Dayanand Social Security Scheme.
“All we demand is 1% of the GDP to care for our needs and security,” said Cherian.
The report revealed that among the elderly, the greatest expectation from the state is that of free medical treatment followed by healthcare. Out of the oldest old, 71% stay with their sons while 9.8% stay with their daughters. Disturbingly, nearly 80.6% of the respondents in this age group admitted to having faced abuse with verbal abuse, disrespect and neglect cited as the major type of abuse.
The HelpAge India report reveals that the daughter-in-law and son emerged as major abusers, though in certain cases, the daughter and grandson were also reported as abusers.
If those who are meant to protect start acting as perpetrators, what will happen?” asked Sen.