Golden oldies on march
This is the first of The Nation's series outlining the challenges and proposed solutions as the population rapidly ages and people will depend more on family and government supportAs the rapidly greying society will see the over-60 population nearly double from 8.56 million now to 17.8 million in 2030, the government will have to redouble its efforts through tax and non-tax measures to boost the capability of senior citizens and their families to cope with age-related demands and to minimise the cost burden on the treasury.
"Thailand's elderly master plan for 2002-21 is now at the halfway point without any concrete achievements," Opas Pimolvichayakit, an expert on ageing at the Social Development and Human Security Ministry, said last week. "There are multiple measures that are not enforced, though projects to deal with different aspects must be implemented at the same time."
In 2010, Asia was home to 414 million elderly. In 2050, their numbers will jump to 1.2 billion on the population bulge of baby boomers from the early post-World War II period, the fall in fertility rates from the end of the 1960s and increasing life expectancy. Some countries in Asia, particularly Japan, where people aged over 65 will rise from 20 per cent of the population to 25.6 per cent in 2030, are prepared for the demographic change. Progress in this area is slow, however, in Thailand.
The master plan sets five objectives - make preparations on the health, income and housing fronts; enhance the elderly's capacity; expand safety and convenience for travelling and long-term care; streamline the operations of agencies; and raise public awareness
So far, the government has allowed judges, doctors and university lecturers to retire at 65 instead of 60.
Chulalongkorn University is evaluating the progress made in the past five years and its report will be submitted this month to the National Committee for the Elderly.
"There's a lot to be done, like raising the retirement age in the private sector. Tax measures are a must to promote this, in the same way that companies are encouraged to hire the disabled," he said.
Trirat Jarutach, an assistant professor in the department of housing at Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Architecture and a member of the National Committee for the Elderly, said many more tax measures are necessary to help raise the elderly's income and their family's financial support. Children now get a Bt30,000 tax deduction for elderly parents living at home and a Bt15,000 deduction for elderly insurance premiums.
The elderly are just beginning to win monthly allowances and loans. Trirat suggested the government expand tax incentives to promote savings through retirement mutual funds. Tax benefits should be offered for renovation-related home loans and products made by the elderly. Transfer taxes should be waived on home purchases for elderly parents. Pension payments should be monthly rather than a lump sum. The more the income for the elderly, the less the burden for the government.
"We can't let things remain unchanged as from 2022, every year one million will join the ageing group. The government will go broke if it has to support them throughout the lifecycle and does not encourage them to stay independent," he said.
Besides tax measures, the government needs a big plan to provide greater convenience to the older generations.
Nart Fongsmut, director of the ageing-oriented Sawangkanives Housing project, said slopes and handrails on footpaths and public places are some of the necessary investment.
Healthy living means lower health expenditures, which will be a major portion of spending on the elderly by the government and the elderly themselves.
According to the United Nations Population Fund's Thailand office, in 2008, the government financed 23 per cent of total health expenditures of Bt367 billion, which accounted for 4.25 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). Much of the expense is financed by the elderly or their families. In 2009, their personal care expenditures reached Bt122.3 billion or 29 per cent of the total and could rise to Bt210.4 billion or 31 per cent in 2015.
Elsewhere, Singapore's public health burden, 0.8 per cent of GDP as of 2005, is expected to rise as the share of persons aged 65 years and above is estimated to increase from the current 8.5 per cent to 19 per cent in 2030 and 27 per cent in 2050.
As the elderly have no earned income, government support is required.
Without new policies, all countries could face the same mountain of public debt that developed countries are facing now.