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We’re not nearly ready for the ageing society

As the dwindling workforce compounds looming challenges, there are examples of sound measures to follow

Thais are not ageing faster than other nationalities, but the challenges we face with the ballooning population of senior citizens are compounded by a tendency to retire early from the workforce and move into “slow life” mode. A recent report said Thailand could face a serious manpower crisis sooner than other countries with ageing societies. It’s become clear that the present and future governments will have to attach greater importance to this issue.
In less than two decades, the number of Thais at age 65 and up – the senior citizens – will constitute more than 20 per cent of the population. Societies are said to begin ageing when that proportion is just 7 per cent. By the time the figure reaches 20 per cent, the society’s ability to cope with senior needs is severely tested. In Japan, the figure is already above 25 per cent, and not even that country’s robust economy can protect it from dire consequences.
Singapore, like Thailand afflicted by a worryingly low birth rate, is also economically sound but also struggling. A recent study there on long-term-care services indicated that Singapore – which already has more adaptive measures in place than Thailand – needs considerable improvement in both services and facilities for the elderly. It called for a national review of the issues involved, such as affordability, funding, manpower, capacity and regulations.
Thailand would do well to at least follow Singapore’s example in encouraging firms to rehire retirees to cover shortfalls in the fully stretched workforce. People over 60 currently make up more than 10 per cent of the Thai workforce – double the number of a decade ago. And Singapore is also offering incentives to young people to marry and to parents to have more children.
The report issued in Thailand warned that up to 15 per cent of the workforce could evaporate in the next decade. And Thailand’s predicament is worsening faster than those found in many developed nations with firmer economic foundations and better education systems.
The report does not mention a crucial factor – the way political conflict has overshadowed the issue in Thailand. The steady political turbulence has seen policies revamped on a regular basis and has pushed aside urgent matters like education, human resources and the looming challenges of the ageing populace. It is unlikely that any of the rivals in the coming election will have proposals for this last issue as a campaign platform.
The business sector has made concrete moves, to be sure. Real-estate billboards advertise “happy retirement” facilities. Adult diapers and other products designed to bring convenience to seniors’ lives are now sold in regular rather than speciality stores.
But from the political sphere, there is little good news. Last year the Democrat Party celebrated another anniversary as Thailand’s oldest political party with pledges about the economy, income disparity and the ageing society. Otherwise the issue gets no mention among political foes focused almost entirely on sidelining either Thaksin Shinawatra or Prayut Chan-ocha. For the most part, the only age group the politicians are interested in is the younger generation.
The ageing issue is threatening us and it will not go away. The time has come to give it a higher place on the national agenda, and to find the stability to address it properly.

Published : August 19, 2018

By : The Nation