Our ageing society is on creaky foundations
My increasing grey hair and fine lines and referring to the young generation as "people these days" are among signs that I am ageing. Although I have long admitted I am old and must prepare myself for a lonely retirement, I am not quite ready for it and the latest news made me feel pessimistic about the future.
On Monday, Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) president Somkiat Tangkitvanich reportedly told a seminar that Thailand will have more old people than children and working age adults 10 years from now. Worse, if Thailand remains a medium-income earning country, it will become the first Asian ageing society which lacks financial readiness, unlike Japan and South Korea.
Currently, 9.6 million or 14.9% of the Thai population are over 60-years-old. Since 2005, Thailand has become an ageing society, meaning that over 10% of its population are classed as elderly. By 2030 it is forecast that 25% of the population will be over 60. In 2033, it is predicted the majority will live alone with inadequate income and welfare. The Foundation of Thai Gerontology Research and Development Institute also estimates that the Thai population will increase to 66.4 million in 2026 and then gradually drop to 63.9 million in 2040. Children and working age adults will start to decline as a percentage of the population from 2026.
Last year, Thailand saw economic growth of 4.3% and the average yearly income per person was US$5,480 (184,370 baht). This year, economic growth of at least 3% is expected. The TDRI president predicted that if Thailand does not undergo reform, its economic growth will continually drop because people of working age are growing old.
On the bright side, some people may think they will be able to depend on pensions, social welfare or government subsidies. Yet, they may be wrong.
From December 2013, any members of the Social Security Fund who are above the age of 55, have contributed money to the fund for 180 months or more and are retired or quit their job will receive a monthly pension from the fund for the rest of their lives. The pension is equal to 20% of the average amount of their last 60 months wages.
Under the cabinet resolution of Oct 18, 2011, older people who earn no income are eligible for monthly allowances from the state of 600 baht. The rate will increase as they age.
Receiving monthly allowances from the state as well as benefits from the Provident Fund and the Social Security Fund after retirement seems inadequate for many. All parties concerned must do something now.
The current government is reportedly trying to find solutions. One of its social policies is to take care of the elderly through state mechanisms. For example, it wants to establish an institute to develop technology for the elderly, including hearing aids and artificial joints. It encourages the elderly to take care of each other. For instance, those aged 60 can help older people and the bedridden.
The national saving law promotes money saving from a young age through the state's 50% contribution to young people's bank savings and 100% contributions to bank savings of those aged above 50. Moreover, the government is seeking to establish a department for the elderly and to increase allowances for them, particularly the underprivileged.
This year, the National Health Security Office (NHSO) will launch a fund for the elderly to pave the way for a long-term care system. The fund, which will cost an estimated 4.9 billion baht a year when it is fully up and running, will cover inpatient care, system management and carer wages.
Interestingly, deputy prime minister Prof Yongyuth Yuthavong has been reportedly floating the idea of changing the retirement age to 65 from 60 since those in their early 60s are still capable of working. Research has found over 30% of older people in Thailand are still able to earn a living. The government has tried to support higher education for this demographic and identify suitable occupations for them.
I agree with Prof Yongyuth's suggestions for older people to learn more about technology, exercise regularly, keep themselves healthy and save money smartly, while relevant agencies should find suitable jobs for them.
Nonetheless, ensuring the elderly's physical, intellectual and financial readiness is not enough. The national health care system must be good. So must be the Thai economy. The TDRI president suggested that Thailand should opt for a service-based economy. To him, the process requires four factors — human resources development through education reform; money making through research and development as well as innovation; management through an appropriately-sized public sector; and marketing to make Thailand a premier trading nation.
As ageing is now a personal reality for me and many in society, we should do more than just complain or save money for the future. All should work together to brace ourselves for hard times by good governance, better education and healthcare and effective law enforcement.
Pichaya Svasti is a travel writer for the Bangkok Post's Life section.
Pichaya Svasti is a writer of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.