With about 50 per cent of the elderly being financially dependent on others, it is affordable housing, healthcare, and the psychological and social manifestations of ageing that we will struggle to respond to as a country with no social security and dismal elderly care facilities.What will be the combined impact of this trend on small, nuclear families, along with an improvement in lifestyle and an increase in degenerative diseases and life spans, especially for women? Where are we going to live as we grow old and who is going to take care of us?
Clearly Parliament had some of these issues in mind when it passed the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act in 2007. The model Act makes it obligatory for children or relatives to provide maintenance to senior citizens and parents. It also provides for the setting up of old age homes by State governments.
Despite this, however, it is a fact that most people in India would rather suffer than have the family name sullied by taking their own children to court for not providing for them. This need to maintain a façade is combined with a lack of knowledge of rights, the inherent inability of the elderly to approach a tribunal for recourse under the law, and poor implementation of the Act by various State governments.
So what happens to those who have been turned out from their homes, or have lost a partner, or just can’t manage to live on their own anymore, especially since the number of old age homes the Centre supports under the Integrated Programme for Older Persons (IPOP) has seen a decline from 269 homes in 2012-13 to a dismal 137 in 2014-15? The Centre has asked State governments to ensure that there are old-age homes whose functioning can be supported under IPOP, but since it is optional for the State governments to do so, the total number of old-age homes remains abysmally low.
Need for a pragmatic approach
While we hope that the Indian family continues to be stronger than in most countries and provides a caring environment for the elderly, it can’t be the basis for our ability to support the elderly. India needs to take a serious look at the needs of the elderly in a more pragmatic and holistic manner. For starters it could focus on the three key aspects of health, housing, and dignity