The growing Predominance of old people is likely to affect many things nationally
The concern that Thailand is steadily becoming an ageing society was fleetingly mentioned when the country’s oldest political party celebrated its birth anniversary last week. Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said his party would be ready for the first general election after the 2014 coup, and prepared to tackle pressing matters such as the economic slowdown, income disparity and a population that is getting old. Most of what he said is old news, except the looming arrival of something the nation has never experienced before.
Businesses are the first to adapt. Signs of the future have emerged in mega-stores, with products catering to old people increasing in numbers and getting more prominent displays. Politically, however, not much has been seriously said. “Ageing society” remains a scary term, which is indeed more depressing than a “political crisis” or “constitutional deadlock”. When a nation grows too old, various
problems can present themselves at virtually every sector – from the
smallest unit, the family, to the biggest, the government.
Estimations vary, but all of them worrisome. According to a certain
forecast, the number of people older than 65 will reach 1.371 billion in 2035, or around 15 per cent of the world’s
About 20 years from now, it is estimated by some, over 20 per cent of the Thai population will be “old”. That’s one in every five Thais and will likely be the second-highest in Southeast Asia after Singapore, which has been implementing related state policies, some of which have made people chuckle all over the world.
Thailand will need a lot more than just cheap adult diapers. A wholesale rethink will have to take place at all levels, starting with the family. Public transport, housing, healthcare, labour or employment benefits, business strategies, education, among others, will be all severely affected, warranting fresh visions and immediate and comprehensive implementation.
“Competitiveness” will have an added meaning. Diplomacy can be a whole new game. With Thailand hot on Singapore’s heels on ageing population, how much longer can Thai athletes maintain superiority at the SEA games? Should military conscription rules be altered? Should smartphones and TV sets come with hearing aids? As far as people like Abhisit are concerned, instead of promising computer tablets in election campaigns, will political parties soon vow to build daycare centre for the elderly at every
tambon in order to get government powers? How about taxation?
There is also the issue of sensitivity, of how to strike a balance between helping the old physically and mentally. Measures do not necessarily go hand in hand. For example, government plans to build state-funded daycare homes can be seen as a threat to the Thai social fabris, and extending the mandatory retirement age can trigger humanitarian and budgetary debate.
One thing is certain: An older population will add to countries’ financial burdens. Older people normally have lower incomes and their health requires greater expenditure. In a future not so far away, political parties running the government or being in the opposition must seriously consider the fact that families’ financial responsibilities will significantly grow.
Both the Democrats, whose electoral base seems to be more in the cities, and their rivals, the Pheu Thai Party, which has strong support upcountry, will realise that their voters are equally affected. Policies, therefore, must take away all the prejudices, or the country’s political divide will have an added dimension, making the problem all the more harder to solve.