July 23, 2013 00:00
By Chularat Saengpassa
More and more people are hitting retirement age in Thailand and by 2030 there will be as many as 18 million elderly Thais - a number that will mark a massive shift in our social structure.
This means one in every five people will be over 60 and most will have stopped working by then. So, it is becoming more and more important for people to start planning their financial future, as well as working on maintaining their health if they expect to remain independent.
It’s also time for proper government policies for the benefit of a greying population.
So far, there are few policies for people over 60, and the ones that are in place are not very practical. For instance, the monthly subsidy of between Bt600-Bt1,000 is far too meagre to help with the rising cost of living, especially when a box of rice with a fried egg costs Bt25 nowadays. Plus, most people have to spend a fair bit to get to hospital to avail of free healthcare.
Meanwhile, studies show that people relying on state pension alone will most likely end up in a difficult situation.
Hence, Dr Orapin Sopchokchai, a researcher for the National Statistical Office, said it is time Thailand pays heed to steps taken by Japan and Singapore. These countries have chosen to extend the mandatory retirement age for their citizens. In 1999, Singapore set the retirement age at 62, while Japan is expected to set it at 65 this year.
Vichai Chokevivat, who chairs the Senior Citizens Council of Thailand, also warned relevant authorities to start preparing right away, especially since the Social Security Office (SSO) will need to start paying out pensions from as early as next year. He said things would become very difficult if the SSO runs out of funds. SSO members aged 55 and above are eligible for pensions.
Thus, he said, the government should start implementing its National Savings Fund (NSF), which will encourage people to start putting away money for their retirement.
Apart from giving its greying population financial freedom, the government also needs to start making public facilities friendly for the elderly. Infrastructure that is age friendly, whether it be toilets or transportation, will help the elderly be more independent.
Then there is the question of health.
Activities encouraging people to exercise regularly and eat healthily should be organised on a wider scale, because if the 60-plus population is healthy, it can remain part of a vibrant workforce that will help the country develop. Besides, a healthy person is also a happy person.