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Big ramifications from our ageing society

Jan 11. 2016
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By Chularat Saengpassa
The Natio

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As tradition of extended families fades, elderly may face a bleak future
THAILAND has become an ageing society well before it can join the ranks of rich and developed nations. Hence, the social and economic ramifications of a growing elderly population will be massive in the coming decades. 
Available figures suggest that the number of Thais aged over 65 will double from 7 per cent in 2003 to 14 per cent in 2025. 
The elderly usually require support, welfare and care. Also, financially speaking, it is very difficult for the elderly to find a job, while physically it gets difficult for them to get around. With age, one’s physical health goes into decline, raising the need for medical help. 
“The older one becomes, the bigger the risk of developing chronic diseases,” Prof Dr Kua Wongboonsin, a deputy director for administrative affairs at Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration of Chulalongkorn University, said recently.
Statistics show that the government spent Bt217 billion on state welfare for the elderly in 2014 alone and it is estimated that by 2021, expenditures on this will double – a rate far higher than the growth of state income. 
Currently, the government is handing out a monthly subsidy of between Bt600 and Bt1,000 for those above the age of 60.
Essentially, the state has to shoulder a financial burden of Bt61 billion per year – a sum that is bound to rise as the elderly population increases. 
Officially, anybody above the age of 60 is considered elderly. However, several experts working in this field have strongly recommended that the word “elderly” cover those above the age of 65. This new definition could make a big difference because people between 60 and 65 in age wouldn’t be forced to retire and can keep working. 
Lack of savings
The National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) also pointed out that the growing elderly population will have an adverse overall economic impact on Thailand as there will be a shortage of labour and reduced economic productivity. 
According to experts, if the word elderly is redefined, then Thailand will have a bigger labour force. Also, this new definition would be better for people in general because it will give them more time to prepare for their retirement. 
The Foundation of Thai Gerontology Research and Development Institute said 2013 statistics showed that two thirds of Thais of at least 60 years of age had no savings. 
Also, Thai society is no longer made of extended families, where grown-up children live with their elderly parents and take care of them. Hence, if an elderly person does not have a nest egg of their own, they face a real risk of suffering in their old age.
Despite receiving a monthly government subsidy, few elderly Thais have enough to scrape by.
With the minimum daily wage at Bt300 per day, the elderly just cannot make do with the tiny subsidy the government provides. 
When South Korea and Singapore first entered the greying-society group in 1990, the per capita income was US$10,160 and $23,420 (Bt366,850 and Bt845,740) respectively. However, when the Thai society began greying, its per capita income stood at just $1,900. 
A ‘longevity society’
Anusan Thienthong, director general of the Social Development and Human Security Ministry’s Department of Older Persons, said the government needs to seriously prepare for the growing elderly population. 
“For instance, we need to encourage people to start saving for their future from the age of 15,” he said, adding that retirement age should also be extended in the private sector and that the government can encourage this by offering companies tax incentives. 
Government agencies have recently come up with initiatives related to the elderly, including the launch of a model school for the young and community funds for the elderly. There are also efforts to repair the homes of elderly people and provide free and improved infrastructure at public parks. 
Yet, all these efforts are dwarfed by the fact that the country’s elderly population is growing at a significantly fast rate.
Hence, apart from redefining the word elderly and providing assistance for the greying population, Kua also strongly recommends that Thailand adopt the attitude that it is becoming a longevity society, not an ageing one. “We need to make sure the elderly population contributes to society so the ageing society is known as a healthy and wealthy society rather than being perceived as too dependant,” he said, adding that this could be done in many ways. 
For instance, he said, commu-nities could be given a financial bonus if they were able to cut down on healthcare costs. This will encourage their members, including the elderly, to take care of themselves better. 

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