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Budget 2022: HelpAge India seeks attention on income, social security for elderly

HelpAge India said there are an estimated 140 million elderly in India and around 70% of these are faced with chronic diseases (Photo: AFP)Premium
HelpAge India said there are an estimated 140 million elderly in India and around 70% of these are faced with chronic diseases (Photo: AFP)

HelpAge India has urged the government to increase the amount of old-age pension, raise income tax exemption limit for senior citizens and to hike the interest limit for deduction on income earned by senior citizens under Section 80TTB

NEW DELHI : In view of the consequences of Covid-19 pandemic which has brought elder vulnerability to the forefront and an urgent need for increased social and health security, HelpAge India—an NGO working for elder care—has urged the government to increase the amount of old-age pension, to raise income tax exemption limit for senior citizens and to hike the interest limit for deduction on income earned by senior citizens under Section 80TTB.

HelpAge India said there are an estimated 140 million elderly in India and around 70% of these are faced with chronic diseases. Poverty in old age, is a major challenge that has been further impacted by the pandemic in varying degrees. About 30% of the rural elderly from BPL households are recipients of old-age pension benefits. Just 26% of households are covered by some form of health insurance in India and 36% of the elderly are working—much higher in rural areas (40%) than in urban areas (26%), and mostly in the unorganized sector. Therefore, there is an urgent need for a robust pension scheme, health insurance plan, and tax exemptions for the 140 million senior citizens from across the social spectrum. 

Rohit Prasad, CEO, HelpAge India said, “The pandemic has brought elder vulnerability to the forefront and the urgency has never been greater for society and government to act, not only to provide relief but also to address systemic inequities towards building back better and leaving no one behind.  We appreciate the Government prioritizing elders during its vaccination drive. As admirably done in PMJAY to bring minimum health security for the disadvantaged, we hope the Central Government will take leadership in setting a basic minimum social pension floor of Rs. 3000/ pm for poor elderly across the country, and revise the central contribution from a meagre Rs. 200 (unchanged  for 14 years) to at least Rs. 1000/ pm. Accelerated implementation of National Program for Healthcare of Elderly (NPHCE) with dedicated funds, is another key step needed to bring in comprehensive geriatric care. "

Income and social security for the elderly is of critical significance as it is a matter for survival for the poor. The absolute poverty, shrinking earning opportunities and increased cost of living, calls for an increase in the amount of pension to a minimum for adecent living. The Central Government may consider increasing the per month contribution per beneficiary to Rs. 1000 for those in 60-79 years and Rs. 1500 for the 80+.

HelpAge India has also sought tax relief on interest income earned by senior citizens of up to Rs. 1 lakh. A tax exemption has also been sought on an annual income of up to Rs. 10 lakh earned by a senior citizen and higher limits to be particularly considered for older women (60+) and all senior citizens in the oldest old segment (80+). Income from bank deposit interest is sometimes the mainstay of the economic security in old age for many. An increase in cost of living affects them too, more so if they have to undergo treatment for non-communicable diseases like cancer, diabetes. 

The needs of geriatric care—long-term care—and palliative care for the elderly need immediate attention. The pandemic has further amplified this need with elders being identified amongst the most at risk. Due to the repurposing of the healthcare delivery systems for the pandemic and movement restrictions, the elderly dependent on public hospitals for treatment of NCDs and free medicines were adversely impacted.

HelpAge strongly recommends an accelerated and prioritized implementation of National Program for Health Care of the Elderly (NPHCE) across the country, along with close monitoring, preferable if the budgetary allocation is done specifically for this unique initiative rather than putting funds in a ‘flexi-pool’. This will cover the cost of outpatient treatment for many poor and not so poor older persons whose families may be constrained to deny them treatment due to economic hardships.

 “The government’s National Program for Health Care of the Elderly is an excellent initiative to provide the much-needed healthcare assistance required, it now needs to be accelerated across all 740 plus districts," Prasad added.

At an age when the health insurance need is highest (60 plus/ 80 plus), any insurance policy is prohibitively expensive. Therefore, there is a need for a special drive to enrol older persons particularly elderly women, oldest old and disabled elderly under the national health insurance scheme - Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY)and to extend the coverage of PMJAY to all 80 plus elderly. 

Under Section 80D for medical insurance, senior and super senior citizens are to be allowed a deduction up to Rs.2,00,000 including home care services, for all ailments. Additional exemption for women senior citizens, as women tend to outlive their husbands and need a safety net.

HelpAge India also pitched for tax exemptions for family carers, encouraging and giving them a fillip to look after their elderly. It has requested additional limits beyond the basic tax exemption.

An amount of Rs.3.5 lakhs (beyond the exemption limit of Rs.2.5 lakhs) for those taxpayers taking care of parents/in-laws up to 80 years and an amount of Rs.5.5 lakhs for taking care of those above 80 years. This can be claimed by any one of the adult members. 

“The pandemic has increasingly highlighted the need for elder home care. We need to encourage and incentivize family caregivers to look after their elderly at home. We hope that this recommendation be seriously considered so care remains within the family fold," said Anupama Datta, head - policy research and advocacy, HelpAge India.

Considering the unique and varied needs of senior citizens which is also the fastest-growing segment of the population, the organization has also requested a Separate Ministry for the Elderly to address these specific immediate needs and plan a better future.

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