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New solutions to old age

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Friday, 17 November 2017 00:00

One of the goals of the Government’s revamped tax policy is increasing revenue so that it can provide a strong social welfare network to its people, but formulating such policies that benefit them has increased in urgency. 

Increased revenues is just one part of the challenge, the other side of the coin is targeting them in a way that reaches the neediest in the most effective way. Setting up such a network is the real test to providing a suitable and sustainable network as Sri Lanka heads towards a future with a fast-aging population.   

The Government needs to focus on special policies to address the needs of its elderly, particularly older women, as the country becomes the fastest ageing nation in South Asia, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said in a new report released recently. 

In 2012 there were 2.5 million people or 12.4% of Sri Lanka’s population living above the age of 60 years, according to the latest available statistics. The Sri Lankan population is ageing at a faster rate than other South Asian countries and has been increasing rapidly since the 1980s. Between 1981 and 2012, the proportion of the population aged 60 years and above has increased from 6.6% to 12.4%, the report said.  

The median age of the Sri Lankan population has also increased from 21.4 years to 31.0 years for the 1981-2012 period, which is much higher than other countries in the South Asian region. Rapid demographic transition with a marked decline in death rates and birth rates and increases in life expectancy are leading to important changes in age-sex structure. 

The life expectancy at birth for males and females has been reported as 72 and 79 years respectively and females often lived six years longer than their male counterparts in 2012. Therefore it is clear comprehensive policies and programs are needed to address the inequalities experienced by the majority of the older population in Sri Lanka. Hence it must be recognised that the older population is a contributor to sustainable development.

Older women in particular need protection to ensure their wellbeing in old age. 

It is also important to support current working-age women’s employment participation, so that women can have a stable income during their working age, thus can plan and be prepared for retirement, reducing their vulnerability in their old age. The change in age structure and an increasing old-age population will result in a significant reduction in the support base for the ageing population in Sri Lanka. In 1981 there were on average seven persons (age 20-59 years) to provide support for one older person and in 2012 the number dropped to four persons.

Currently only 34% of Sri Lankan women are employed in the formal sector. The Sri Lankan Government in its latest economic policy document has expressed the need to improve this segment. 

There were 382,496 more widows than widowers. There were five districts, namely Colombo, Kalutara, Gampaha, Kandy and Kurunegala, which had more than 30,000 elderly widowed females.

The feminisation of the aging population will need additional careful attention. Steps will need to be taken incrementally as the Government does not have the revenue to do otherwise. But it cannot afford to wait as in the long term the costs will simply continue to build.

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