Despite the vast oil reserves in Iraq, poverty is a huge issue facing the country. Factors such as social inequality, war and terrorism have led to 23% of the population of Iraq living in poverty, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission. Elderly poverty in Iraq is a particular problem requiring government attention.
What is Elderly Poverty?
Elderly poverty is when people over the age of 65 live without a sufficient income or pension. In the countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, approximately 14% of those over the age of 65 live in poverty. In comparison, the rate of poverty across the population of these countries on average is about 11.6%. Globally, elderly poverty is increasing, due to people living longer and having insufficient pensions.
Elderly Poverty in Iraq
Iraq has a population of approximately 41 million people, of which 5.1% (2 million people) are older than 60. According to the United Nations Population Fund, this number is expected to increase to around 7.5 million (10.6%) by 2050. While sources cannot reliably determine the exact rate of elderly poverty in Iraq, fewer than 20% of older people have a pension, which results in many working past retirement age.
In addition to this, literacy rates are lower among the elderly in Iraq, making jobs outside of manual labor difficult to obtain. Among those over 70 years, only 42% are literate; for those between 60 and 69 years, only 63% are literate. Although programs exist to improve literacy rates in Iraq, they focus primarily on the young.
The number of elderly workers has increased significantly in Iraq, making them commonplace, especially among those who fled and relocated due to ISIS. Obtaining work as an elderly laborer can be difficult, as younger workers are more desirable to companies, due to their physical strength and higher rates of literacy. The elderly population of Iraq needs the government to intervene to ensure there are job opportunities for all ages and skill sets.
Women in Iraq and the Impact of Elderly Poverty
Elderly poverty also negatively impacts women, as the care of elderly people usually falls to female family members, limiting their ability to get a job. According to the Iraq Women Integrated Social and Health Survey, 31% of the elderly women interviewed needed help to perform basic daily tasks. The majority of this help comes from their families, as less than 1% have access to external health care workers. This is likely due to costs, as only 59.7% of the interviewed women over 55 were able to afford health care.
In Iraq, aid for the elderly is primarily the responsibility of their families rather than the government, but the lack of government involvement frequently perpetuates the cycle. Many women cannot work due to looking after elderly or disabled relatives, and without work, they cannot gain a pension. This perpetuates a cycle of generational poverty among the elderly. Furthermore, many people in Iraq lost family members during the conflicts, resulting in a number of elderly people who have neither familial nor government assistance.
Organizations Help Solve the Elderly Poverty Issue in Iraq
Fortunately, organizations and programs are in place to improve elderly poverty in Iraq. HelpAge International is an organization centered around improving the lives of the elderly by advocating for greater social protection, better health care and the recognition of the needs and rights of the elderly during crises. Elderly people are often physically unable to flee during conflicts or natural disasters, but aid organizations frequently overlook their specific needs (such as accessible food distribution points or recovery loans). The Jiyan Foundation has partnered with HelpAge International in Iraq, where they provide support to those suffering from the effects of human rights violations and conflict.
The Social Protection Program for Iraq: Leveraging Effective Response and Accelerating Reform is an EU-supported program lasting from April 1, 2021, to December 31, 2025. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), alongside the Iraqi government, is working in collaboration with the World Food Program and the International Labor Organization to improve conditions for vulnerable people in Iraq. The program aims to encourage legislative reform around social protection, such as benefits and pension schemes while optimizing existing systems. The overall goal is to ensure that by 2024, vulnerable people such as the elderly, women, the young, the disabled and Internally Displaced People will be able to access income security and social insurance.
Shedding Light on Elderly Poverty Across the World
In recent years, elderly poverty has been gaining more recognition globally. Since 1990, October 1 has been celebrated as the International Day of Older Persons, and in 2010, the U.N. General Assembly created the Open-Ended Working Group on Aging. This group works to improve the human rights of elderly people within international law. Elderly poverty is also becoming more widely studied by academic institutions like Oxford and Harvard. In 2021, the World Health Organization and several U.N. departments published a report on ageism and the need to eliminate it from society.
Elderly people are among the most vulnerable in society, and it is essential that they are included in and protected by government legislation. As life expectancy continues to rise with advancements in technology and science, it is more important than ever to address elderly poverty. With further international support and government initiatives, elderly poverty in Iraq could be significantly reduced.
– Tasha B. Johnson