Many of India's Elderly Forced to Live in Inhuman Conditions, Says Study

The Agewell Foundation has discovered that most elderly people face financial hardship, especially when it comes to medical costs.

The majority of elderly people in India face financial hardship because of one or both of the following reasons. Either most of them are no longer earning any income or their savings are inadequate to cover the cost of living, particularly medical care. Moreover, while many people in the age group of 60-70 years are looked after by their children, this too stops as people get older since their children either become too old themselves or are burdened by other familial responsibilities towards their families. These are some of the disturbing findings from a comprehensive study done on the financial status of older persons by the Agewell Foundation.

Released ahead of the International Day for Older Persons which falls on October 1, the study has also revealed that often the elderly’s vulnerabilities are exploited by their family members and other relatives. The study is primarily based on data collected by Agewell helplines for the elderly which function nationwide. Agewell surveyed nearly 15,000 persons from all over India over many years to collect the data for this study .

The study finds that nearly 65% of older people undergo financial crises and are totally dependent on others for their daily sustenance; the remaining 35% are financially secure because they have earned, saved or inherited well over the course of their lives.

Revealing why it was important for the country to have an effective pension and post-retirement plan for the elderly, the survey has also revealed that pension was the main source of income for nearly 38% of the respondents.

Rising health costs a cause for worry

The study also revealed that rising healthcare costs are a major worry for the elderly and over 80% of the respondents admitted that they face major problems when it comes to paying for their medical treatments.

Unsurprisingly, the survey also reveals that the elderly in urban areas are financially better off compared to their rural counterparts relatively. While overall 36% of those surveyed said their financial rights and interests are well protected, of these a larger segment (42%) was from urban areas and about 30% from rural areas.

The problem of old age and poverty is more acute in rural areas with many of the surveyed people living in miserable conditions.

The study also revealed that the elderly suffer a lot due to medical, social and financial problems even if their net-worth has increased. This is so because “there are hardly any dedicated and sensitive schemes for senior citizens which can ensure a comfortable and respectable old age.”

Notional increase in well-being

While 46.4% of the respondents also claimed that their net-worth has increased remarkably in their old age, founding chairman of Agewell Foundation Himanshu Rath explained that this increase is primarily due to the rise in real estate prices. “It is a notional increase, but provides a feeling of well-being to the elderly. On the other hand, the rise in property prices is also a major cause of stress between the elderly and their children who want to partake in the growing family wealth.”

He said the elderly become more assertive about their needs and rights when there is a significant increase in their net worth. “With high net worth value, older persons have higher purchasing power, but they hardly use their discretion while exercising such powers. Younger family members often manipulate their decisions. That is why in spite of major role and active participation of older persons in the country’s economy, they are still considered as negligible consumers in comparison to the younger generation.”

Rath said “financially insecure old people expect social security, free healthcare and subsidies, so that they can lead a comfortable and respectable life in old age, at the same time older people with sound financial health look forward to risk-free investment schemes, so that they can earn good returns to meet financial needs in old age.”

According to the study, the majority of India’s elderly (38%) rely on pension as their income, 25% rely on rent,  13% on jobs or other kinds of gainful employment and 18% on business interests. The report also noted that money alone is not enough to help the elderly unless they have loving and caring relatives to look after them.

It continued that despite enjoying a high net worth, a large number of senior citizens over the age 70 years felt marginalized or isolated to a large extent and were compelled to live in inhuman circumstances.

However, the survey noted that there was a need to help the elderly secure and grow their wealth. “Older persons with good net worth value are in search of short-term financial planning to earn a better income. Since many of them live alone, they also want to utilize their resources through their remaining life.”

Elderly in need of social security

Many of the respondents spoke about how they felt the need for better social security to help tide them over. “We are going through a very tough time in our life. Both of us (me and my wife) worked as agricultural labour throughout our working life. Now we have no regular source of income except [a] paltry old age pension from [the] government. Our children are settled in big cities and hardly support us financially. Due to poor financial condition I cannot afford medicines for my wife,” said Om Prakash Purohit, a 69-year-old farm worker from Madhya Pradesh.

Rath said “financially insecure old people expect social security, free healthcare and subsidies, so that they can lead a comfortable and respectable life in old age. At the same time older people with sound financial health look forward to risk-free investment schemes, so that they can earn good returns to meet their financial needs of the future.”

In view of its findings the foundation has demanded coverage under existing and/or new social security schemes for all elderly people in the country – increasing life insurance to cover more years, provision of medical insurance for older people to help them meet the increasing cost of treatment; covering of properties,(movable/immovable) under general insurance schemes; increasing awareness about financial planning among the elderly and government sponsored provisions for financial security of the country’s aging population.

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