Elderly Poverty in LatviaMany know Latvia, a small country in Eastern Europe that Lithuania and Estonia border, for its seaside capital city and rich cultural heritage. Following its swift recovery after the 2008 financial crisis, the country’s elderly population overshadowed Latvia’s strong economy. Brought on by a declining working-age labor force, the rate of elderly poverty in Latvia remains a point of concern.

The Vulnerability of the Elderly

In 2015, the World Bank unveiled a report titled “The Active Aging Challenge for Longer Working Lives in Latvia,” which presents data on the status of elderly poverty in the country. In coordination with the Latvian government, the project set out to discover how to develop a strategy to promote “longer working lives” while emphasizing the need to make better use of the existing workforce.

The results point to shrinking younger generations as the main contributor to elderly poverty over declining life expectancy rates. The report highlights two key risk factors that are causing the working population to dwindle: emigration and low fertility rates. An overall population decline of 0.5% each year is due to emigration siphoning workers out of the country.

However, low birth rates fail to provide the backup labor necessary to keep the economy stable. By 2035, this trend predicts that working-age populations will decrease by 23%. Furthermore, a report that the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published determined that those in the 65 and older age group will increase in number by 50%, catapulting the elderly poverty rate in Latvia to double the average in comparison to other EU countries.

Lack of Safety Nets and Workforce Integration

The Latvian pension system is one of the problems which inherently stands in the way of solving elderly poverty in Latvia. Back in 1996, the government introduced the NDC scheme, or in other words, the pay-as-you-go system. This allowed individuals to make contributions to their retirement fund as they wanted. However, with the elderly population on the rise, it has become evident that those who made low contributions find themselves with very little to support themselves on.

Women in the 75 and older age group made the smallest contributions. The poverty rate of Latvia remains the highest across OECD countries. Additionally, the country has the lowest level of income among older people of OECD countries. Those who choose to remain employed find that only 40% of Latvian companies provide any training. This makes integration into the workforce much harder. Latvia has the highest proportion of people in the European Union with healthcare and education inequalities. This is due to a lack of training by firms and workers.

Lending a Helping Hand

The Riga Acting Seniors Alliance (RASA) aims to support Latvian individuals older than the age of 50 who are at risk of elderly poverty and help reintegrate them into society. Most notably, it connects seniors to others who share the same interests.

Caritas Latvia is another group that targets lonely seniors, the unemployed and people in poverty. It implements home visits, food and clothing drives, crisis centers and other volunteer work to help people in need. Caritas has pointed out that it will not be able to complete its work until spending on social protection increases to include the elderly at risk of poverty or social exclusion.

Looking Forward

The country’s government recognizes the problem of elderly poverty in Latvia and has incorporated elderly poverty reform into its legislative goals. A survey that the Central Statistical Bureau (CSB) conducted in 2019 found a 0.4% decrease in populations at risk of poverty in comparison to a similar study in 2017. This drop was due to the rise in the minimum wage, changes to the income tax application and increased social benefit offerings such as pension plans. The changes signal a promising start to resolve Latvia’s core socioeconomic issues as well as a commitment to achieving progress.

– Nicole Yaroslavsky
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty in Greece
Elderly poverty in Greece is growing at an alarming rate. The government has been unable to address this issue. As a result, nonprofits are stepping up to alleviate some of the burdens carried by the elderly. Here are eight facts about elderly poverty in Greece.

8 Facts About Elderly Poverty in Greece

  1. Austerity Measures on Relief: Recent government measures in the past two decades have resulted in lower pensions for senior citizens. Pensions greater than 1,000 euros became continuously cut throughout the years, with pension bonuses completely removed from government-provided relief. This has led to serious challenges for seniors. Many had retired or were close to retiring when these changes were implemented. As a result, there was no time for seniors to adjust their savings plans or extend their careers.
  2. Poverty Often Increases with Age: Seniors above the age of 75 are more likely to experience poverty than seniors ages 55 to 75. This is often due to health issues and medical expenses. Additionally, for many seniors, retirement savings are difficult. For individuals who are already struggling with poverty or who are living frugally, there is little room for retirement savings. Those who do save for retirement do not end up saving enough to live in an increasingly expensive world. When health issues also arise, they create unexpected medical bills that may not be covered completely by health insurance. In some cases, seniors do not even have health insurance to help with financial burdens.
  3. Lack of Immediate Support: Most seniors don’t have years to wait for policy change or government action to address poverty; they require assistance immediately. Finding the funding and resources to do this requires more than just government attention or even NGO attention. The issue can only be solved by joint action by the government, NGOs and other global poverty organizations.
  4. Increased Cost of Living: Most households calculate the absolute least amount they have to spend per month to be near 1,500 euros. Unfortunately, this is quantified as higher than what the government considers “extreme poverty.” As a result, there are many in the elderly population that need food assistance and other forms of relief but do not qualify. To solve this problem, the government must re-evaluate its criteria for aid.
  5. Rising Healthcare Costs: As seniors age, many begin to face health issues. Some possess health insurance; however, this does not guarantee that there will be no costs. Rather, it subsidizes some costs. Seniors face the challenges of affording medicines, treatments, hospital visits and routine checkups to keep up with physical health. Furthermore, seniors are more likely to undergo medical tests for symptoms that could be suggestive of other issues due to their age. This means potentially ordering numerous expensive tests that don’t lead to a diagnosis.
  6. The Need for Increased Pensions: Increased pensions will most directly help reduce elderly poverty in Greece. The current amount the elderly in Greece receive from their pensions is too low for a secure standard of living. The Greek government has tried to address this issue many times but has yet to find a successful plan in altering the pension. Instead, pension benefits have been cut, value-added tax has not been raised and the entire issue has been swept under the rug.
  7. Government Struggles: Greece has had difficulties figuring out how to address elderly poverty in Greece. The country currently spends more than any other European country on economic output on retirement funds. Unfortunately, this has been not enough, as the issue goes past just monetary funds. The government should focus on creating support systems for elders and providing better access to affordable healthcare in order to decrease expenses.
  8. Nonprofit Efforts: A prominent nonprofit that has been making strides in addressing elderly poverty in Greece is Caritas Hellas. This organization addresses poverty in Greece, but it has also been successful in helping alleviate some of the burdens of the elderly population. The organization distributes food and clothes and provides services of counseling and educational support to around 300 individuals. Furthermore, the organization works on strengthening family links to set up a lasting support system for the elderly.

The Way Forward

Only after substantive institutional changes have been made will the issue of elderly poverty in Greece decrease. Government officials should work in collaboration with nonprofits in order to address the needs of the elderly and set up long-lasting systems of support and aid to reduce the number of those suffering from poverty.

– Manasi Singh
Photo: Flickr

Elder Poverty in Thailand
Thailand’s population of senior citizens has been increasing in recent years. Alongside this increase in population size, the percentage of elderly poverty in Thailand is also rising. A decrease in the younger generation’s desire to have children and a lack of retirement incomes have contributed to this poverty increase. Here are eight facts about elderly poverty in Thailand.

8 Facts About Elderly Poverty in Thailand

  1. Less Young People in Thailand are Having Children: Many young Thai people say they are choosing not to have children because starting a family is not affordable. Raising children limits personal freedom and hinders opportunities for career development. As a result, the number of children being born into the “new generation” has decreased.
  2. Fewer Children Increases Poverty: The age that Thai couples are choosing to have children has grown to be older in recent years. Divorce rates in Thailand have also increased. This contributes to elderly poverty because the biggest source of financial security for elders in Thailand is family members, especially children and grandchildren. With fewer children and grandchildren being born, there is a higher risk of poverty for the elderly.
  3. Thai Population Grows Older: Thailand’s population is quickly growing older. According to the World Bank, “the proportion of people older than 60 will increase dramatically in the next 50 years, from 15% in 2010 to 35% in 2060.”
  4. Elderly Poverty is Significant: The poverty rate is higher among the elderly than in the total population. In 2010, 10.9% of people over the age of 60 were impoverished, while only 7.7% of the total population was in poverty.
  5. The Dependency Ratio is Growing: Right now, the dependency ratio in Thailand is 56%. This ratio compares the population of children and the elderly to the number of citizens of working age. By 2070, the World Bank predicts that the dependency ratio will exceed 100%, which means that there will be more people not working than people who are working.
  6. Males Have a Higher Poverty Rate: The poverty rate of males is higher than the poverty rate of females at most ages. This difference is particularly prevalent among those over 70 years old. Additionally, the highest poverty rates overall are children below age 15 and elderly above age 60.
  7. The Elderly Poverty Rate is Growing: Although the number of elders that fall below the poverty line in Thailand is fairly low, the amount of elders close to the poverty line is high. Nearly 18% of the elderly in Thailand are impoverished or vulnerable to poverty.
  8. Thailand is Creating Pension Programs: There are currently eight pension programs in Thailand that are working to lower elder poverty by providing retirement incomes. Despite mandatory pension schemes, approximately two-thirds of Thailand’s employed population is not financially insured. While the Social Security Fund insures private employees and the Government Pension Fund insures government officers, informal sector workers receive minimal financial support.

Elders in Thailand rely on the assistance of their families and pension after retirement. However, the decrease in the nuclear family and the lack of financial insurance are affecting the poverty rate among elders. Pension programs are working to lower the elder poverty rate in Thailand to combat financial reliance on families.

Grace Parker
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Elderly Poverty In Singapore
In Singapore, elderly people from the age of 65 and up formed 15.5% of the country’s total population, ranking among the most rapidly aging communities in Asia besides Japan. This has been due to the improved healthcare system and living standards that have significantly decreased the mortality rates over time. Research shows that between 2012 and 2015, poverty in Singapore increased by 43.45%. Poverty levels among the old age population increased by 74.32% in the same period. The increase in the elderly population has increased dependency on the working-age population, with most having to return to work after retiring. Here are four reasons for the increase in elderly poverty in Singapore.

Lack of Government Foresight

Singapore developed rapidly over the last few decades, however, studies indicate that only a proportion of the population enjoys wealth. In 2013, the government reported that 105,000 households experienced poverty, which was one in 10 families.

During its planning, the government lacked foresight resulting in it failing to consider some important factors. These factors include longer lifespans of the elderly, the fact that savings from their years of labor would depreciate annually and the fact that they have varying education levels due to not always being able to access formal education. Poor communication skills, high medical costs and inefficient government support programs are some of the reasons that contribute to increasing elderly poverty in Singapore.

Lack of Efficacy

Government support is key to alleviating poverty in many countries. Singapore’s government has put in place programs to assist the poor, such as ComCare, a short to medium-term assistance scheme. However, the lack of education and confusion around the processes and criteria of this program frequently discourages the elderly from applying for the help they need. Citizens aged 55 and over included only 35% of applicants of ComCare in 2015, even though the elderly make up a large portion of Singapore’s impoverished. Moreover, high medical care costs due to age issues may also deplete the assistance provided—retirement income adequacy declines due to decreased social security benefits and less income from pension benefits.

Lack of Financial Planning

Financial planning among individuals is also to blame for the skyrocketing levels of elderly poverty. Insufficiency in funds to live a complete life due to poor personal decisions, such as engagement in drugs or refusing to relocate for employment, is a frequent cause of this. As such, inadequate financial resources and the poor management of these resources are the root cause of financial adversities.

Most older adults in Singapore are poor due to forced retirement. The statutory age of retirement is 62. Many employers also coerce elderly employees into early retirements to avoid higher taxes and expenses. This leaves little notice for a lot of elderly Singaporeans to save at an earlier stage. Additionally, financial education does not receive priority, leaving many in Singapore vulnerable to avoidable mistakes.

Changes in family structures and lifestyles coupled with the increased costs of living have also increased the levels of elderly poverty. Therefore, this has necessitated good financial planning, necessary at a younger age for better old age.

Lack of Training

The elderly lack the communication skills required for positions in the service industry. Singaporean language policy, which eliminates other Chinese dialects except for Mandarin, marginalizes the old since most of them can only communicate in Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese. Therefore, positions in customer service or as receptionists are consequently out of reach for many leaving only the option of manual labor.

A lack of communication skills can also affect an individual’s social mobility, as limited communication can make upgrading skills for the purpose of improving one’s job a tall order. The government provides language courses, but it does not tailor the courses to the illiterate, who would instead use their time to generate income. Overall elderly poverty further ties to other factors such as health, education and job opportunities, which also constitute the determinants of socio-economic state in old age.

The Tsao Foundation

During its developmental stages, Singapore did not adequately spend on welfare and social policies, spending more on its pursuit for economic development. However, NGOs exist that are providing long-term solutions to elderly poverty in Singapore. An example of this is the Tsao Foundation. For 28 years, it has developed training and financial education opportunities, as well as community-based elderly care to help transform the aging experience in Singapore. The Foundation was even able to continue its mission remotely through COVID-19 through its pre-existing online Expert Series, allowing people to continue their education throughout the pandemic. The Tsao Foundation aims to help shape an inclusive society that promotes intergenerational solidarity, benefiting everyone involved.

It is important to prioritize education and to create opportunities throughout every generation. Through the efforts of the Tsao Foundation, the intent is that elderly poverty in Singapore will not continue.

– Simran Pasricha
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty in Turkey
Turkey is a divided nation, caught between ancient traditions and the promise of modernity. Turkey’s elderly population especially reflects this, as many of Turkey’s elderly struggle to adapt to the drastic changes in social, cultural and economic landscapes. Turkey has the second-fastest-growing elderly population in the OECD, and with this uptick in the elderly population looming on the horizon, the Turkish traditions of elderly care are being put to the test. Yet, with the government turning its attention elsewhere, the silent threat of elderly poverty in Turkey presents a national problem.

Upholding Tradition

In many Turkish traditions, care for the elderly is a key pillar of Turkish values. People in Turkey consider the elderly in family units essential, not only for the sake of respect and tradition but also for the wisdom, knowledge and support they provide for the family. In religious terms, numerous verses and Surahs of the Quran describe the virtuosity regarding caring for the elders, as well as the importance of responsibility for one’s family. Surahs illustrates this in 17:23, in which respect for the elderly receives particular emphasis. In addition, Doctor Nermin Ersoy and Doctorate student İnsaf Altun wrote for the Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics stating that “In ancient Turkish societies the elders kept their existence after death. People believed that their spirit was living in the home.”

However, considering that expectations have determined that the elderly population in Turkey will triple by 2050, Turkey is facing a shortage of financial resources. The combination of these two factors presents an ominous future for the country’s elderly. One study by Statista found that 18.4% of Turkish elderly ages 65 and over already live in poverty. Another 2019 study from the European Social Policy network found that a whopping 9.4% of employed Turks aged 55-64 fell below the poverty line, ultimately amounting to uncared for and neglected elders.

Much-Needed Aid for Turkish Elderly

While the situation is bleak, some Turkish governmental agencies have worked to combat the effects of elderly poverty in Turkey. Prior to the pandemic, the Turkish government was beginning to work on revitalizing already existing elderly support programs. One such program, the Elderly Support Program, offers funding for elderly housing and care facilities, as well as reparative construction for existing civilian and community housing.

Another aid program aimed at helping Turks over the age of 60, the Caregiver Service Program, works to provide caregiving for seniors in need. The program provides financial support to the families of the elderly as well, citing the fact that more than 5.5 million people in the Turkish workforce earn less than the minimum wage, with the majority included in that figure caring for older family members. The Caregiver Service Program also raises awareness of elderly poverty and encourages younger generations to pursue careers in caregiving or related fields.

However, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, national support is not the only aid that some are offering to combat the silent threat of elderly poverty in Turkey. While the government implemented a quarantine for elderly Turks over the age of 65 to minimize the risk of COVID-19 for part of 2020, local organizations are also taking matters into their own hands. A local nonprofit in Istanbul dedicated to helping poverty-stricken Turks of all ages, Derin Yoksulluk Ağı (Deep Poverty Network), stated that even considering current government efforts and the inclusion of “old-age pension, [and] death compensation, even state aids are not enough to take people out of the poverty spiral.” Since the start of the pandemic, the Deep Poverty Network and organizations like it have worked to aid in alleviating the silent threat of elderly poverty in turkey.

The Future of Turkish Elderly Poverty

The current Turkish political landscape does not leave much room for the subject of elderly poverty in Turkey, with governmental attention focused on the more immediate political, economic and social struggles in Turkey. Without receiving the attention of Turkish leadership, the issue of elderly poverty has turned into a silently looming threat. With projections determining that the elderly population will triple by 2050, the silent threat of elderly poverty in Turkey still remains an issue. However, with the continued efforts of state programs and local assistance from organizations like the Deep Poverty Network, hope exists the outlook for Turkey’s elderly population.

– Maddie Youngblood
Photo: Unsplash

Elderly Poverty in the Netherlands
The Netherlands is a country in northwestern Europe, neighboring Belgium to the south, Germany to the east and the North Sea to the north and west. A founding member of NATO, the E.U. and the OECD, the Netherlands has the world’s 18th largest economy and the sixth-largest in the European Union. With a life expectancy of 81.95 years and a relatively low birth rate, Dutch society is aging. Nevertheless, the Dutch seem to be doing so gracefully, as the rates of elderly poverty in the Netherlands are the lowest in the OECD. Here is the current situation regarding elderly poverty in the Netherlands and what the country is doing about it.

 

The Current Situation

Like most other European countries, the population of the Netherlands is aging. As of 2020, approximately 19% of the population is aged 65 and older, lower than the European average of 20.5% but higher than the U.S. figure of 17%. In 2016, the rate of elderly poverty in the Netherlands was only 3.1%. Elderly poverty in the Netherlands is the lowest within the OECD and much lower than the U.S. rate of 23%, the highest rate of elderly poverty within the OECD.

The good news for those in their golden years in The Netherlands does not stop there. Households that people aged 65 and older head in the Netherlands saw their capital increase from an average of 22,000 Euros annually in 1995 to 86,500 Euros in 2015. The income of this age group is five times higher than that of an average Dutch household. During the late 1990s, only about one in three elderly Dutch persons were homeowners, but by 2015 more than half owned their own homes. The risk of those aged 65 and over falling into poverty has also decreased over the past 20 years.

The Dutch Pension System

The Dutch pension system rests on three pillars: a flat-rate state pension, supplemental occupational pensions and voluntary private pension provisions. The first pillar, a flat-rate state pension, receives financing through payroll taxes paid to residents 67 years of age and older. Supplemental occupational pensions, the second pillar of the system, consist of additional occupational pensions accrued during employment. The third pillar is the voluntary private pension system, through either endowment insurance or annuity insurance. Together, these three assistance sources have provided a stable income source for older adults in the Netherlands.

The Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index has classified the Dutch pension system as a B+ system, one of the best in the world. Only Australia has an equal rating for its pension system, and only Denmark’s pension system ranks higher with an A rating. The U.S. pension system, by comparison, obtained the rating of being a C system. A B+ pension system is defined as having a sound structure but with some room for improvement, while a C system has some positive features but significant shortcomings.

Extensive Home Ownership

According to Statistics Netherlands, increased capital among the elderly, which decreases the chances of slipping into poverty, lies in extensive homeownership. More than half of elderly homeowners own a home with a market value above the original purchase price.

Universal Health Care

Dutch law requires all residents to have a private health insurance policy, and insurers must accept every applicant. Furthermore, a national insurance system for long-term care such as nursing homes and exceptional medical expenses exists in the Netherlands. This insurance is mandatory and paid for through public insurance contributions. There seems to be a clear relationship between elderly poverty and health care spending. Among OECD countries, the Netherlands has the second-highest health care spending and the lowest rate of elderly poverty.

The picture has not been so rosy for the entire elderly population of the Netherlands. Elderly poverty in the Netherlands among those of non-Western background, who made up 6% of the total elderly population in 2020, is higher than that of the native Dutch. Income levels and life expectancy are lower among these groups than they are among native Dutch elders. This is an issue of concern, which reflects the disparity within larger Dutch society between natives and those of non-Western migrant backgrounds.

Tens of thousands of older people in the Netherlands do indeed live in poverty. Still, the low rate of poverty and significant financial success of the vast majority of older people in the Netherlands suggests that the system is working well for most.

Adam Abdelaziz
Photo: PIXY

 

Elderly in BangladeshThe world currently has approximately 720 million people over the age of 65. By 2050, about 22% (36 million) of Bangladesh’s people are projected to be in this age category. With this in mind, it is important that this growing demographic is taken care of. In particular, the poverty affecting the elderly in Bangladesh is a concern that should be attended to.

Elderly Poverty in Bangladesh

Bangladesh is one of the most impoverished countries and the effects of poverty are felt hardest by vulnerable populations like the elderly. The Global AgeWatch Index ranks countries by how well their older populations are faring socially and economically. Bangladesh is considered a distinctly tough country for older people as HelpAge International ranked Bangladesh 67th out of 96 countries on the 2015 Global AgeWatch Index.

The organization notes that a considerable amount of the hardship inflicted upon older people in Bangladesh is due to natural disasters and extreme weather. Cyclones, floods, and heatwaves destroy the homes and livelihoods of elderly people. Additionally, HelpAge notes that elderly people in Bangladesh are often refused healthcare due to ageism within the country’s public health system.

Elderly people in Bangladesh also struggle to maintain a dependable income since finding employment is harder with age, especially with common and physically demanding jobs like rickshaw pulling or soil digging.  As in many other lower-income countries, elderly people in Bangladesh have to look for employment in old age due to inadequate livelihood support and insufficient social security measures.

While by no means exclusive to Bangladesh, another problem that the elderly face in Bangladesh is stigma, as pointed out by Dr. Atiqur Rahman. The stigma described is one that views the elderly as unproductive, unhealthy and needing intensive and constant care. Dr. Rahman describes the idea of the elderly being a burden as both morally and economically incorrect.

Old Age Allowance Program

The Old Age Allowance (OAA) program is a government social pension scheme that assists the elderly in Bangladesh. Originally implemented in 1997, the program provides welfare payments to qualifying elders in order to help them get by. The overall size of the program was rather small at its inception, supporting about 400,000 people. Since then, the OAA has come to cover 4.4 million elderly in Bangladesh and the size of the payments increased from 100 to 500 Bangladeshi takas (around $6). Granted the growth is a step in the right direction, the program is not yet at a point where it can help in the broad sense. Elderly poverty has still increased since it started. The OAA program accounts for a minuscule portion of Bangladesh’s budget (0.53%) and covers only 2.25 million elderly people.

Additionally, much of the fund is going to the wrong people. A study by the University of Dhaka’s Bureau of Economic Research and HelpAge International discovered that elderly people who are not impoverished are getting 50% of the total benefits and about 33% of the fund is going to those who are younger than the eligible age. Another study found that local governments lack the knowledge and interest to properly target relevant beneficiaries most in need.

Organizations Supporting the Elderly in Bangladesh

HelpAge International provides early warning systems for potential natural disasters. In times of these disasters, the organization ensures the elderly have shelter, food and access to services. For long-term relief, HelpAge restores livelihoods by supporting small business enterprises with low-cost community loans. The organization also provides training for healthcare workers to treat conditions affecting the elderly and works on improving healthcare infrastructure and referral systems for the elderly.

The Care First Foundation is an organization that offers the elderly in Bangladesh risk monitoring, referrals, counseling, medicine and medical support, home care and activities. Its goal is to expand its initiatives to alleviate elderly suffering through proper community support and services.

With more support from organizations and improvements to the social support system provided by the government, the elderly in Bangladesh can thrive and not just simply survive.

Sean Kenney
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty in Colombia
Many often ignore the marginalization of the elderly in benighted areas of the world in favor of other more current events. This is a phenomenon affecting almost every developing nation. The increase in life expectancy around the world does not necessarily mean that people are living better quality lives, especially in countries without sufficient resources to care for their elderly population. Below is some information about elderly poverty in Colombia.

The Current Situation

Colombia is a country of roughly 50 million people and a growing elderly population. However, it only has 80 geriatric centers to attend to its senior demographic. Furthermore, only 28% of the total senior population in Colombia can access a center specializing in their medical needs. According to the Medical Department of La Sabana University, the remaining 72% of elders cannot access proper medical attention or a trained caregiver. Most of this demographic inhabits isolated rural areas where access to specialized centers is quite distant. Elderly poverty is an underlying issue in Colombia, and very few organizations have committed themselves to the improvement of this situation.

Impact on Income

Poverty not only impacts Colombia’s senior population medically but also financially. In fact, around 59% of people over 60 rely solely on the pension system and have no stable income source. The elderly poverty rate in Colombia has reached the second-highest in the region, behind Paraguay, almost doubling the Latin American average. Currently, it is the nation with the third-largest elderly population without an income. Furthermore, social and familial networks are not strong enough to care for their elderly, as the aging citizenry becomes a burden for their families and immediate circle. Because only 4% of citizens over 60 years old have a pension and their own source of income, most of them rely on their descendants to care for them. However, given that 9.8% of seniors live by themselves, some do not have familial ties that support them.

Even though the alarming data on elderly poverty is bleak, it informs governments on where to address the issue. They must attempt to invigorate the quality of senior life and provide easy access to pensions. In addition, the government must work to strengthen the geriatric medical sector’s training and outreach. When trying to solve this structural issue, families and communities must also enter into consideration. They are essential to providing elderly support, ultimately decreasing the chance that anyone over 60 feels burdensome

Colombia’s Actions

Colombia is following the example of Spain and Mexico in including its aging population in socio-economic life. It has employed and trained seniors to perform tasks and activities in sectors such as tourism, culture and entertainment, granting them a stable income and bettering living standards. Additionally, it is also increasing seniors’ quality of life as they stop feeling obsolete. Responsible government spending regarding the elderly and the civilian population’s inclusivity towards its aging citizens must accompany this “longevity revolution.” For example, Bogotá City Council created the Municipal Elderly Council back in 2015, a community-based organization focused on advising the Mayor’s office matters impacting seniors. The council represents the elderly; it has been a successful platform in promoting dialogue and advocacy for senior civil society.

Foundational Efforts to Combat Elderly Poverty Issues

Currently, two prominent organizations working to diminish elderly poverty in Colombia are the British NGO HelpAge and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID). They are joining efforts to provide the elderly living in rural areas with humanitarian aid and psychosocial help from gerontology professionals. Both organizations have a commitment to working on-site in Colombia, in regions like Nariño and Valle, where armed conflict displaced over 400 seniors. HelpAge and AECID also provide legal aid to elders seeking to be indemnified because of their displacement.

Both foundations work hand-in-hand with Paz y Bien (Peace & Righteousness), a Colombian NGO in charge of aiding displaced elderly populations in precarious situations. Together, they discovered that householder mothers were willing to earn extra income by taking care of their communities’ elderly. Thus the foundations provided women proper training to care for seniors, not only to grant them basic medical attention but also to keep them company in a new community. This model benefits both parties, as they are able to form new societal ties. So far, this joint project has yielded excellent results over the last six years.

Many often ignore elderly poverty in Colombia to prioritize other issues, such as ending the six-year ongoing armed conflict. With the pension system’s flaws, it is crucial for civil society to keep taking action. With efforts to attend to elderly poverty in Colombia, the future is promising, as emerging projects create a more dignified life for seniors.

– Araí Yegros
Photo: Flickr

Health Barriers Faced by the Elderly in JamaicaIn line with the global aging population trend, Jamaica has seen a rapid increase in its elderly population. This increase is now calling for continued action to address the health barriers faced by the elderly in Jamaica.

An Aging Population

In 1995, Jamaica reported having 110,430 males and 130,020 females in the 60 years and older group. This represented 9.42% of the total population in the country. By 2001, Jamaica’s elderly population consisted of 122,844 males and 141,869 females. A decade later in 2011, the census reported that the number of individuals who were 60 years or older had risen to 145,204 males and 159,979 females. These numbers indicated a 15.2% increase in the total number of people who were 60 years or older from 2001 to 2011.

Additionally, by 2011, those in this age group accounted for a greater share of the dependency ratio, a ratio measuring the number of young (0-15 years) and old (60 years or older) people in a population compared with that of the working population.

The World Health Organization has stated that this older population is mostly affected by chronic non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, arthritis, hypertension and cancers. In 2018, Jamaica reported that 72% of elderly people had at least one chronic illness, with hypertension and diabetes being the most common. This contributes to the high percentage of people taking medication as well. Furthermore, persons over 60 years of age were much more likely to experience protracted illnesses in comparison to the rest of the population.

Healthcare Barriers

With recent progress in Jamaica’s life expectancy, the elderly are living longer. According to the World Health Organization, in 2018, the life expectancy for Jamaicans was 76.2 years. It is expected that these individuals will require more long-term care and rehabilitation services as they become increasingly vulnerable to diseases and lose physical or mental capacities.

However, there is limited access to local long-term care services in Jamaica and the number of caregivers has decreased throughout the country. Traditionally, younger Jamaicans would stay home and help care for older family members, but with the recent fall in family size resulting from a drastic drop in the fertility rate, the number of family members available to care for these individuals has significantly declined. The issue is worsened by the increasing number of young Jamaicans migrating abroad, typically to the United States, and leaving their older family members behind who frequently encounter difficulties in accessing rehabilitation services independently.

Financial Barriers to Healthcare

Many older Jamaicans also face financial barriers in accessing much needed medical treatment and services. While Jamaica has established a wide and extensive network of public primary care centers and hospitals offering free or low-cost services, the cost of medications and other health care resources has risen as most of these products are imported and the nation’s currency has undergone severe devaluation.

These financial burdens are especially felt by the country’s older population who rely on pensions to cover their living and health expenses. The Old Age Pension provided to qualifying retired Jamaicans is usually insufficient to cover the additional health costs associated with old age as the pensions do not adjust to meet the yearly changes in the cost of living.

Lack of Access to Healthcare in Rural Areas

Additionally, older Jamaicans living in rural areas experience significantly higher barriers to health as there is a lack of overall access to medical care, health and treatment services and transportation. A study conducted in 2012 found that people living in rural areas tend to have more “uncontrolled and undiagnosed disease,” evidenced by the fact that 27.5% of those surveyed who were diagnosed with high blood pressure had not previously received a diagnosis from a doctor. Furthermore, among those who had received a prior diagnosis, 72.2% had signs of the disease as being poorly controlled.

Also, health barriers are intensified by the fact that only 30% of the elderly population living in rural areas are pension recipients as compared to 44.4% in the Kingston Metropolitan Area. The elderly in rural areas also report having greater issues with food availability and adequacy as 53% stated not having easy access to the food they need.

Researchers Eldemire-Shearer, K Mitchell-Fearon and DL Holder-Nevins stated in 2014 that these difficulties in accessing treatment and food emphasize the health challenges that older Jamaicans face as the current health system is primarily engaged in reducing chronic disease and maintaining functional ability. They say a different approach is needed to better meet the new demands of older Jamaicans who suffer from prolonged mental or physical conditions.

Addressing Barriers

In 2018, the Jamaican government revised the National Policy for Senior Citizens, created in 1997, to introduce new measures for supporting and improving the quality of life for the elderly. The plan outlines a multi-stakeholder approach designed to address social, economic and health barriers faced by this fast-growing population.

The document promotes universal access to quality health care for all senior citizens and acknowledges the varying medical needs within this age group. It also calls for a greater expansion of health insurance coverage since only 23% of elderly people are insured.

Furthermore, the plan outlines steps for improving income security for all senior citizens and tasks the government with providing food assistance when necessary. It also provides detailed initiatives for expanding access to health resources, including mental health services, home and respite care, physiotherapy and other rehabilitation services. All these health resources for the elderly are to be carried out under the supervision of the National Council for Senior Citizens, which monitors and evaluates the progress of senior citizen programs at both the national and regional levels.

While the existing health care system will require the full implementation of all these measures in the coming years to combat the health barriers faced by the elderly in Jamaica, this policy plan offers a comprehensive guide to start addressing some of these challenges.

– Emely Recinos
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty in Russia
Nearly a quarter of a century has passed since the Soviet Union dissolved and the subsequent Russian Federation emerged. With nearly 20 million people living in poverty, the transition to a capitalist nation has certainly not been an easy one for Russia’s citizens. Before assessing the subject of elderly poverty in Russia, it may be helpful to explore some of the causes and consequences of pervasive poverty throughout the population.

Wealth Inequality is Rampant

While nearly 14% of its population lives below the poverty line, and 20-30% considers itself poor, Russia’s fiscal policy ultimately favors the rich. One may observe this in the fact that 50% of Russia’s pre-tax national income goes to the top 10%. Relative to the size of its economy, Russia has the highest number of billionaires compared to any other large country — its wealth stratification being the worst out of all the countries included in the World Inequality Database.

Russia is Relatively Unproductive

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Russia ranks 39th out of the 42 reported countries. One can attribute this to several consequences resulting from its state capitalism, which include weak institutions and corruption. Foreign direct investment (FDI) has fallen especially within the past few years after the implementation of sanctions following the annexation of Crimea. Moreover, Russia’s labor force is set to shrink between now and 2050 as a result of constraint in growth from its aging population — that being, more young people are leaving Russia while the elderly will require more comprehensive improvements in health care and long-term care.

Post-Soviet Hardship

After the economic collapses of 1991 and 1998, many Russians lost their life’s savings. The transition to a capitalist economic system has had a substantial negative effect on the older generation (age 50 and up), which represents nearly 35% of the population.

While much of the data reported on elderly poverty in Russia contradicts, reports have determined that upwards of 70% of aging couples are poor. Because of this, a justified concern exists around Russia’s consistently aging population, as it faces an even higher risk of poverty – invoking a necessity to investigate and address the country’s aging issue and economic instability.

Limited Public Assistance

According to the Global AgeWatch Index, Russia ranks 65th out of 96 countries when considering the population’s well-being, life expectancy and mental health. Furthermore, the pensions have neither kept up with inflation nor the country’s average earnings, as the average pensioner in Russia receives the equivalent of €180 per month – barely enough to live on.

Unfortunately, Russia has limited resources for the elderly who are either disabled or suffering from dementia and other ailments. Social services and state aid are often expensive and inaccessible to the older generation – wrapped up in a multitude of bureaucratic requirements. Those who do not have a family to receive care from often end up homeless or in nursing homes with “warehouse” conditions.

Bettering Conditions

Fortunately, organizations exist that are continuously working to improve the consequential conditions of elderly poverty in Russia. One such organization is Enjoyable Aging. The depressing conditions of poverty and loneliness in nursing homes in Russia struck Lisa Oleskina, who started the organization in 2006.

Today, Enjoyable Aging employs nurses who adopt a standard of individual care for elderly patients living in nursing homes. Loneliness is a serious concern for Russia’s elderly, and poverty can certainly exacerbate this issue. Enjoyable Aging combats loneliness through organizing events and regular correspondence with facility residents in more than 120 nursing homes in Russia.

Further Signs of Improvement

As with the rest of the world, Russia has faced an economic downturn amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, with the nation’s unemployment rate increasing to its highest in eight years (6.3%). A recent spike in cases could potentially push the country into further economic turbulence that will have a substantial impact on the older generation. However, prior to the pandemic, Russia was on track to see long-term economic growth.

Although progress had been slow, the World Bank reported as recently as September 2020 on Russia’s promising improvements in its human capital development – most notably, the country’s reductions in adult and child mortality rates. Nevertheless, as the population’s average age continues to rise, a necessity to significantly improve funding for the country’s public health care remains. Prioritizing long-term physical and mental needs is essential to lift up the most vulnerable within a developing economy.

– Alessandra Parker
Photo: Flickr