The ageing population in Sri Lanka is one of the fastest growing aging populations in Asia. Economic and Social analysts have predicted that the population of those over 60 years of age will double in less than 20 years with the percentage of the over 60’s rising to 18% in 2020 and 27% in 2040. The government has initiated numerous legislative acts to bring in a social security scheme for the elders but unfortunately it does not appear that any awareness is created about the available facilities. Moreover whatever the facilities be, they are not aligned to the prevailing economic situation in the country. The letters that often appear in the newspapers show that government sensitivity is not attuned to the realities that exist concerning senior citizens.
Obviously since senior citizens do not have an unified organisation of their own and are in different levels and strata of society they are unable to present any single demand requesting that government pays attention to their specific needs. Furthermore it appears that very few politicians bother to read the letters to the editors, or articles that appear in newspapers and journals wherein senior citizens express their plight. Conveniently politicians forget to hear their voice.
The breakdown of the extended family and the migration of women for domestic labour either in this country or abroad has created a vacuum in rural and marginalised areas since the traditional carers are no longer present to take care of the elders. Older people are often left isolated and haphazard care is taken of them by kind neigbours when they fall ill or need something to eat.
The highly competitive neo liberal economic system we are following , the jumbo cabinet that the government has to maintain giving all the perks and privileges to preserve the two third majority in Parliament
The problems faced by senior citizens is a matter of grave concern .The highly competitive neo liberal economic system we are following , the jumbo cabinet that the government has to maintain giving all the perks and privileges to preserve the two third majority in Parliament, the continuing beautification of the cities with all the needed infrastructure means that neither the elected representatives who swear by the Mahinda Chintana which promised the pre 2006 pensioners that the anomalies that existed in the State sector pension system would be attended to, nor the bureaucracy in charge of governmental finances has the ability to keep to the promises made.
The public sector senior citizens do not appear to be in a better position as is obvious in the letters they write, as one private sector pensioner states, “The bulk of the senior citizens are those who have worked in the private sector and deposited their hardearned savings in State Banks drawing tippets monthly since they do not get a pension like the Public Servants. The Central Bank had once recommended an annual bonus on the deposits in state banks by the senior citizens. With the reduction of the interest rate for savings and the withdrawal of the bonus grant on deposits the senior citizens in this country confront various financial difficulties in their old age.”
The Farmers Pension Scheme and Fishermen’s Pensions Scheme often remain static since the contributions that they have to make is seldom done. The Government pays a paltry sum under the public assistance scheme managed by provincial social service departments of Rs. 500 or perhaps a little more to are older people without any income.
Due to the fact that the nuclear family is unable to help them many would like to retain their independence by entering Homes for Elders, such homes are mushrooming charging exorbitant rents which often is beyond the means that both the pre-2006 State pensioners and public sector middle level employees get, but due to their financial inability and the present economic structure which has led to the collapse of the social value system, senior citizens are often tolerated as a nuisances by their children who reluctantly accept their responsibility. The Ministry concerned with the elders rights should make use of the newly appointed Economic Development Officers attached to each Divisional Secretariat to find out how many senior citizens are unable to cope with their normal lives.
HelpAge does try to make a change in the lives of these people but HelpAge has also its cash flow problems and we in our county do not have a method of obtaining home care services for a reasonable fee to look after the elders in our homes. Most hospitals are not really geared to treat geriatric patients; neither do they have special wards for them. In the once war-torn areas according to most community workers, many of the elderly show signs of trauma or isolation as they struggle to meet their daily needs.
Those without extended family support face poverty, loneliness, dependency, ill health and lack of nutrition and access to adequate healthcare. While politicians are fighting each other for their ‘manapes’ and Ministers are wondering how best to enjoy their Ministerial posts very little gets done for the people in the county and the once respected senior citizens are considered the least important sector in their agendas.