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A CRYING NEED FOR A DEPARTMENT OF AGEING TO TAKE CARE OF OUR ELDERLY

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Unless we have prepared well, the years after retirement can be far from golden. — 123rf.com
by LILY FU
Wednesday 12 April 2023

Working folks envy their colleagues who have retired. No more nine to five, no more taking orders from the boss, no more stress from meeting deadlines or worrying about ROI.

They have all the time now to do what they like, go where they want and be able to finally pursue their dreams, whether it’s to travel, take up a new hobby or get a degree.

This is an idealised picture of retirement. Unless we have prepared well, the retirement years can be far from golden. Just take a walk in the inner-city streets, the back alleys, or visit low-cost flats (PPR). You will see the other side of retirement. Not a pretty picture.

Every so often we read about an elderly abandoned at the bus-stop or at a hospital.

According to the Social Welfare Department (JKM), about 2000 elderly have checked into welfare homes over the past five years. The actual figure is probably much higher. An estimated 71% of EPF contributors do not have enough savings to live above the poverty line.

To be fair, there have been improvements over the years. Senior citizens enjoy discounts on public transport. Medical care is practically free at government clinics, and easily affordable at public hospitals. Elder-friendly facilities are now fixtures in public buildings, and there are special lanes in government departments to serve the elderly.

There are plans to have an activity centre for seniors (Pusat Activiti Warga Emas or PAWE) in every parliamentary constituency. The grant for each PAWE to run the centre has been raised from RM33,330 to RM50,000 annually. All very good, but these improvements have been long overdue, and are a very small step towards preparing for the future.

There are plans to have an activity centre for seniors (PAWE) in every parliamentary constituency such as this one in Taman Medan, Petaling Jaya. The grant for each PAWE to run the centre has been raised from RM33,330 to RM50,000 annually. These improvements have been long overdue, and are a very small step towards preparing for the future. – Filepic

Based on findings of the on-going Malaysia Ageing and Retirement Survey (MARS) conducted by Universiti Malaya’s Social Wellbeing Research Centre, and involving 5,613 respondents, Malaysia will be classified as a super-aged nation by 2056 when 20% of the population is aged 65 and above.

Academicians and researchers on ageing have conducted countless surveys over the years. It is such a waste of time, money and effort when nothing much happens after they have presented their findings to the government.

The proposal to introduce legislations against elder abuse and abandonment has been brought up now and then over the past two decades. Each time the issue raises a storm of controversy, then the buzz fizzles out till the next time it is mentioned again in Parliament.

As an example, in Sept 2019, then Deputy PM and Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail announced the Senior Citizens Bill would be tabled in Parliament in early 2021.

With the subsequent change in government, the bill was left in limbo. Fast forward to March 2023. Current Deputy Minister Aiman Athirah Sabu, in responding to a question, said the bill would be tabled in Parliament for the first reading in 2024! When that time comes, will there be yet another delay? Will the same scenario repeat itself?

Speaking in the Dewan Rakyat recently, Women’s Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri, commended the National Senior Citizens Advisory and Consultative Council (MPPWEN) on their role they played. The council meets only twice a year. The urgency is not there.

There is a crying need for an inter-ministerial committee on Ageing. Any action plan on ageing should involve more than just the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry.

NGOs, CSOs and representatives from the B40 group should also be at the table. These are the grassroot leaders who are familiar with the problems faced and are directly impacted by any decisions made. They speak from lived experience, and their voices should be heard.

Bear in mind proposals and plans are just that, on paper and in discussions in meeting rooms where the elderly who are the target group do not have a seat at the table.

Even when Acts and Bills are passed, implementation is painfully slow due to bureaucratic red tape. The Social Welfare Department (JKM) has too much on its plate: from the welfare of women, children, senior citizens, OKU to the community at large.

Each demographic group has its own set of issues to deal with. When resources are limited, priority is often given to women, children and youths.

After all, for the elderly their days are numbered. They do not contribute much to the economy and in fact are seen as a drain on limited resources for welfare.

These retirees and pensioners, mostly in their 70s and 80s, have contributed much to nation-building in their younger days. Now in their twilight years, they are overlooked, if not forgotten in the broader scheme of things.

The haves can take care of themselves. Our concern is the have-nots – theB40 elderly and those living without family support. Aside from the crumbs given to senior citizens at every Budget allocation, they are often shut out in the job market, and denied opportunities to better themselves.

What they need is sustained financial support, not one-off handouts as and when, and also access to long-term health care. How long do the elderly have to wait for better days ahead in the time they have left? It is a time bomb ticking away when we consider the ramifications an ageing population presents.

(The above article was originally published in Star Silver pullout of The Star under the column ‘Grey Matters’.)

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