The State’s Responsibility 

The Place of the Elderly in Our Society

By TD Fuego

Last week’s article concentrated on the elderly in their home environment and the family. But, the State also has a responsibility to ensure that the elderly spend their twilight years in comfort and live their lives in dignity.

Furthermore, we must ensure that they do not suffer any form of abuse, which happens often due to their vulnerability, especially in the later years when they are prone to losing some of their faculties.

Comparison. We have fallen into this awful habit of comparing ourselves with what is possibly the worst Continent on Earth. Even a CPE-level child knows that progress is not achieved by contenting ourselves with being the best amongst the mediocre. It can only come if we try to match ourselves with what is considered the best. Instead of repeating ad nauseum how well we are doing in everything in Africa, we should compare how well we are doing against Europe and the US. Benchmarking is important.

Education. Prevention is better that cure, the wise say. There is no better tool than education to ensure that the elderly are allowed to spend their last days in dignity. A widespread programme of education is necessary—for everyone! Society must be made aware that any contravention against the person of the elderly will be severely dealt with. Crucially, the elderly must be made aware of their rights and who to contact in case they feel these are being trampled upon.

Legislation. We know that many elderly people are abused in our society. The culprit may be a neighbour, an offspring, a relative, an employee, a member of the staff in a residential home, anybody and everybody. It is the duty of the State to ensure that cases of abuse do not occur and, when they do, strong sanctions are taken. For this, the legislature must ensure that social workers and other officers are empowered to carry out their investigations without let or hindrance.

Social Workers/District Nurses. There should be enough of these to attend to the needs of the elderly, especially those—singles and couples—living alone. Regular visits by social workers will ensure they get the necessary moral support and detect cases of abuse. The district nurse can attend to their medical needs and advise them on health matters including nutrition. If and when needed, the elderly must be given the help of a carer or home help, to enable them to continue living in their home as long and as far as possible.

Residential homes. There may come at time when the elderly person is no longer able to cope at home. In that case, they should be persuaded to move into a residential home. I know these are costly affairs, but government has a duty to ensure that people are well looked after in their twilight years. We must ensure that the home care is of a standard that attracts rather than dissuades people from going there. Strong legislation and uncompromising enforcement of standards by trained personnel are also essential.

Pensions. At present, the Old Age Pension (OAP) is Rs 3,146, which is totally inadequate, especially in cases where the dependent spouse has not reached their pensionable age and has no source of income of their own. Besides, even by government’s own definition of absolute poverty which is Rs 3,800, the current OAP is way below the bread line. Something has to be done on this score. It is appreciated pensions cost a lot of money. Rather than beat our chest and proclaim our magnanimity in providing it free, we should seriously consider introducing a contributory OAP scheme that will ensure a decent pension for all, as it is in most advanced countries.

Conclusion. The hallmark of a civilized society is gauged by the standard of care it provides to its sick, its disabled and its elderly. Lets us make sure that ELDERLY care in our country meets the highest mark on that gauge.

* Published in print edition on 18 March 2011

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