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Awaaz in focus: FINANCIAL Insecurity and Re-employment of Retirees – IN CONVERSATION WITH MR. HIMANSHU RATH

Mr. Himanshu Rath,
Founder and Chairman, Agewell Foundation

Q. According to the Agewell Foundation’s Report titled ‘Financial Status of Older People in India’, 49.32% of the rural elderly population and 35.49% of the urban elderly population are dissatisfied with their current financial condition. 19.35% of the older persons claimed that their financial status is very critical. Pensions have been the main source of income of 41.43% of the elderly population. While 58.7% of the respondents disagreed with the fact that old-age pension schemes are working well in India, over 36.9% of respondents said that, in their opinion, disability benefit schemes, particularly for the elderly, are not satisfactory in India. Around 61% of the respondents said that they are not satisfied with old-age financial security schemes in India.

In light of this, what are the effects of financial insecurity on the elderly population’s ability to access essential services like healthcare, nourishment, or housing, and how do experiences of financial insecurity and accessibility to resources change in relation to an elderly person’s caste, gender, sector of work or residence (urban or rural)?

In India large population is working in an unorganized sector and the proportion of such a workforce is increasing rapidly due to various reasons like outsourcing of various services by the government sector and organized sector.

People working in the unorganized sector are prone to financial insecurity in old age when they are not able to work and earn. In old age due to various other factors like mobility problems, financial and health- related issues, people have limited access to resources.

Social security has always been a primary focus area of various plans and policies of the Government of India since independence. Initially, almost all social security schemes and programs were focused on younger generations, and issues related to healthcare and disability were addressed by these schemes.

Old Age social security was considered as a family subject, as most people lived with their children in old age. With the rapid increase in the population of older persons and fast-changing socio-economic scenarios, issues concerning old people are now also being included in the social security schemes over the years.

Realizing the ever-increasing population of older persons and fast-changing socio-economic & demographic scenario, the Government of India has also prioritized old age-related issues in its social security and social protection schemes and programs. India’s social security system comprises a number of schemes and programs.

Still, the government-controlled social security structure in India applies to only a small portion of the population. In India, the caste system is deep- rooted, hence its impact on the various communities is widespread.

Though traditionally older people are respected and taken care of by younger family members across the castes/communities in India, it is observed that elderly with financial security i.e. who are getting retirement pensions/family pensions or getting income from other sources like savings/investments/rental from properties/income from business are comparatively well cared for.

People without financial security in old age are prone to neglect/harassment/elder abuse. In rural areas, the status of older persons is more critical, because most of them are dependent on their family members for their needs and requirements due to no/less income in old age.

It has been observed that older women are more prone to neglect/harassment/elder abuse in old age due to comparatively less knowledge, lack of education, and awareness about their rights.

In rural areas, status of older persons is more critical, because most of them are dependent on their family members for their needs and requirements due to no/less income in old age.

Q. In an interview with Livemint, in 2019, you said, “Government policies and our social norms are not at par so far as social security in old age is concerned. The condition of social security schemes is very depressing”. What are the drawbacks of the social security schemes available to the elderly population in India? How has the Code on Social Security 2020, if it has helped in mitigating the limitations to the provision and access to old-age benefits in India?

Providing social security to a large population of India is a major cause of concern for the Government in India. With ever-growing numbers of older persons and the fast increasing life span of people, ensuring the social security of older people is one of the major challenges.

There are major drawbacks to existing social security schemes. One such drawback is that coverage of such schemes is very less – primarily people working in the organized sector get the benefits of social security schemes.

The amount of old-age pensions, widow pensions, or disability pensions is very less, which is not enough to meet the basic needs of the beneficiary. There is also irregular and delayed delivery of benefits. In some cases, there has been a delay of 6 to 12 months.

These schemes are poorly implemented and there is a lack of transparency and accountability. I believe that every single financial security scheme should be transparent, and accountability must be fixed with concerned officials/stakeholders.

Apart from the non-availability of social security funds with concerned departments, there is a lack of awareness about the financial security and social security schemes and provisions among the public, particularly among older persons living in rural areas. In some cases, even people working with program implementation agencies are not aware of these schemes.

The amount provided as Old-Age Pension should be benchmarked to the increasing cost of living, and provisions for tax-incentives should be made available for employees who are looking after dependent senior citizens.

To ensure social security for people in old age, concerned stakeholders need to focus on maximum coverage under existing and/or new social security schemes. Medical, as well as life insurance till the end of life, should be provided along with financial security in old age. There should also be widespread coverage of properties, movable/immovable, under general insurance schemes on concessional rates for older persons.

A positive environment for financial planning from a younger age should be implemented so that they can earn ensured income in old age.

Spreading of awareness regarding medicines and healthcare equipment beneficial to them in old age, particularly in rural and semi-urban areas is required. There should also be dedicated healthcare facilities, particularly in rural and semi- urban areas. Old age pension amount should be benchmarked to the increasing cost of living and provisions for tax incentives should be made available for employees who are looking after dependent senior citizens.

Q. According to you, should old-age benefits, such as pension schemes be universal or targeted? What are the challenges to the effective universalization of old-age benefits in India?

Yes, old-age benefits, such as pension schemes should be universal. All eligible elderly must be covered under the system automatically. Preference must be given to older women, who are more prone to financial insecurity in old age. The large elderly population is a major challenge to effective universalization. In addition, increased life span in old age is another major challenge before the government.

India has a broad ambit of social protection programs, but the overall public expenditure on social protection (excluding public healthcare) is only approx. 1.5% of the GDP, lower than many middle-income countries across the world. In India, most social protection programs are aimed at addressing capability deprivation (inadequate nutrition, lack of employment, low educational attainment), rather than providing safety nets to deal with contingency risks (health shocks, death, disability).

Contingent social security covers mostly organized sector workers, who comprise only 8% of India’s workforce. In the past decade, a social security scheme (Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana) has been introduced for unorganized sector workers, but less than 20% of the population is covered under any form of insurance.

Universalization of old-age benefit schemes will help in ensuring independent life in old age.

Out-of-pocket health expenses, which create barriers to seeking healthcare and can push marginal households into poverty, form as much as 89% of private expenditure on health. Against this background, India has only recently started a long- overdue move towards universal social security.

In 2015, the Government of India introduced a life insurance scheme (PM Jeevan Jyoti Yojana), an accident insurance scheme (PM Suraksha Bima Yojana), and a contributory pension scheme for unorganized sector workers (Atal Pension Yojana).

The lack or the absence of interest of local authorities and representatives in old age income security schemes is also one of the major causes of concern. Universalization of old-age benefits schemes will help in ensuring independent life in old age. Older persons who have to depend on their family members/relatives/others for financial needs should have minimum social security assurance in old age.

Q. Agewell Foundation’s Employment Exchange Programme aims at providing gainful employment to elderly communities. What was the rationale behind the introduction of the Programme? What are some of the job prospects available to the elderly population in India today? How can workspaces adapt to the changing demographic and create age-friendly workspaces?

In our country, the population of older persons has already crossed the 130-million mark and their number is growing rapidly. Over the years, the socio-economic, demographic, medical, and traditional scenario has changed remarkably, but our perceptions about older persons have not changed accordingly.

Generally, after 60, people are treated as old and retired. With a longer life span, older people are now capable of continuing to work in their 60’s, 70’s and even in their 80’s. The marked increase in life has also increased the financial and other requirements of older persons.

Whereas the government is still unprepared to meet the challenges of financial security of old people due to longer old age and traditional family care of older persons becoming dysfunctional.

Today, rigid notes of aging are no more applicable and the government and society have to be in tune with the realities of changing times Undoubtedly, older persons are a huge source of wisdom, knowledge, experience, and values, which can be utilized in the interest of society and the nation.

In view of increasing life expectancy, it is pertinent to ensure empowerment in old age; economically, socially, and medically, especially to those who belong to the economically weaker section.

Re-employment of old retired people primarily belonging to economically weaker sections is like tapping non-conventional energy resources – useful in all ways and beneficial for all. It is like ensuring an active, meaningful, comfortable, and above all respectful life in old age. In today’s IT-dominated world, for providing gainful engagement opportunities to older people there is an urgent need to reskill them by providing them soft skill training or some kind of new skill development training as per the market requirements.

Re-employment of old retired people, primarily belonging to economically weaker sections is like tapping non-conventional energy resources – useful in all ways and beneficial to all.

Indeed it is ironic; very few people prepare themselves for their life after retirement. Research suggests that normally most of the people at the time of retirement have one or more of the following unfinished tasks in hand; Children are still attending school or college, medical treatment of family members, marriages of their children, some have their parents living with them, etc. In addition, most of them are mentally and physically fit to work for another 10-15 years.

The elderly people find it difficult to find a suitable job/employment due to various reasons such as they are not well versed with information technology, lack of modern communication skills, they are not aware of where and whom to contact. There are no separate placement agencies or organizations to help find new jobs and they also find it odd to approach placement agencies and compete with younger people.

Placement agencies are also usually more focused on younger applicants. On the other hand, there are a number of organizations in the private sector that are in constant need of experienced, mature, and knowledgeable employees. They find it difficult to locate them.

There is no placement service, which can meet their requirements. These experienced people can be a great asset to any organization provided they are utilized properly.

Under the Employment Exchange, Agewell proposed to set up a Re-tooling/Re-skilling Cell for older persons. It aims to provide re-tooling and soft skills training to retired old people. It also aims to help them upgrade their existing skills, encourage older persons for self-employment, provide tips and guide them on re-employment, thus making them self- reliant in old age.

There are placement cells that are exclusively established for Retired Older Persons and their aim is to provide a common platform for job seekers in old age and job providers for older persons. They explore gainful re-employment opportunities for older persons and develop linkages among concerned stakeholders.

They also provide them with relevant information about suitable gainful engagement opportunities available in their area and assist the corporate sector and small business establishments in hiring services of older persons.

Some of the job prospects for retired people can be, administrative or supervisory work, they can be a Consultant or an advisor to organizations. They can also help in the marketing of products and services, handle accounts, etc. Elderly people who are retired educators can also take up tuition or extra classes for students.

These experienced people are an asset to any organization provided they are utilized properly.

Mr. Himanshu Rath is the founder and Chairman of Agewell Foundation. Agewell Foundation, India is a not-for-profit NGO that has been working for the welfare and empowerment of older persons of India since 1999. It is associated with the Department of Public Information, United Nations (UN-DPI-NGO). Agewell has also been a member of various Working Groups and Steering Committees on Social Sector for three consecutive Five-Year-Plans of Planning Commission of India since 2002.

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