SENIOR CITIZENS: FINANCIAL INCLUSION AND ECONOMIC SECURITY

The elderly in India face different forms of abuse and have different insecurities. One such insecurity is financial insecurity.

The Longitudinal Aging Study in India (LASI) (2017-18) notes that due to changing circumstances, especially the kith and kin of senior citizens moving away from them for education and job opportunities and the shift in family structure, from a joint family to a nuclear family, is leading to major economic impact amongst the senior citizens.

The economic situation of elders in India is abysmal. The LASI study found that out of all senior citizens surveyed, only 35.7% were currently working, while 37.9% worked in the past, but were not working after the age of 60. 26.4% had never worked.

The statistics also show the gendered differences – while 50.9% of the men above 60 years of age were still working, this number was only 22% when it came to females.

Most of the senior citizens who were still working were living in rural areas and belonged to the unorganized sector. They were mostly employed in agriculture – either in farms/fisheries/forestry or as agricultural labourers. Moreover, the mean monthly income for people working after the age of 60 in agriculture is a meager Rs. 4856.

Our system of providing pensions also needs a major overhaul. 78% of the population of elders
above 60 years of age do not get and do not expect to get, a pension in India.

Only 19% of the population gets a pension, and only 3% expect to receive one in the near future. This pattern is also seen in the organized sector – while 7% of the population has retired from working in the organized sector, only 6% of that actually gets a pension.

A study by the World Health Organization and HelpAge India explains the implications and dynamics of economic and financial insecurity amongst the elderly. Economic problems were a key issue amongst the middle-class men, but there was a general consensus that economic hardships were prevalent amongst women belonging to the low-income group, especially if they were widows.

This economic and financial insecurity has led them to be completely dependent financially on their sons and daughters, and this dependence has been linked to the ill-treatment, humiliation, and complete neglect by their children, and other family members. These episodes have led to them having additional physical and mental health issues.

This ill-treatment of senior citizens by their children also manifests as different forms of abuse, especially financial abuse and economic exploitation. This is an issue that is scantily addressed.

While there are different forms of abuse within the ambit of economic abuse, such as misappropriating funds, forging signatures, and committing fraud for financial gains, the most prevalent forms of financial abuse to which the elderly community is subjected are, the unauthorized disposition of their property and their isolation to confined living spaces within the house.

One way financial insecurity can be addressed is through re-employment, but this has been a problem in India since the number of job opportunities diminishes as the age of a person increases. Therefore, states should be actively encouraged to re-employ senior citizens, especially to give them a sense of financial security.

Different countries, including India, are also cognizant of the fact that due to an increase in the life expectancy of humans, and the decreasing trend of fertility rates, there would not be enough people belonging to the working population who could replace the senior citizens. Till this happens, governments should be providing pensions, which, as seen above, has not been effective.

Thus, from the perspective of policy-making, reemployment and re-skilling of senior citizens is a
major requirement. One way through which the governments addressed this concern is by increasing the retirement age – states like West Bengal and Kerala increased the age of retirement of doctors, especially after they were met with a lack of doctors.

This economic and financial insecurity has led them to be completely dependent financially on their sons and daughters, and this dependence has been linked to ill-treatment, humiliation and neglect.

Tamil Nadu re-employed some of its senior civil service cadres as Officers On Special Duty and consultants to projects the state signed with the Asian Development Bank.

But these measures are not enough, especially since most of the senior citizens work in the informal sector, and most of the technologies and innovations they worked with have changed. Thus, it is important for governments to be cognizant of these demographic changes, and be cognizant of the economic issues and their subsequent physical and mental health issues.

The Central Government had announced a slew of policy measures to address the same – especially in its Draft National Policy For Senior Citizens (2020). According to Rajit Mehta, the draft policy has identified some loopholes in the pension scheme of India and has proposed a series of interventions.

This includes integrated and comprehensive insurance coverage and saving schemes, a senior-citizen-friendly tax structure, and support to find alternative career options in teaching and consultant services, both in the private and public sectors. But the success lies in its implementation. It is to be noted that a draft policy with similar promises was already introduced in 2011, but the state of senior citizens has not witnessed significant improvement.

One way through which financial insecurity can be addressed is through re-employment, but this has been a problem in India, since the number of job opportunities diminish as the age of a person increases.

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