Old age welfare policy to be introduced this year

Jan Yeladen

To improve the care and protection of older persons, the Gross National Happiness Council (GNHC) Secretariat is developing a National Policy on Older Persons. Expected to launch in October.

Few studies by the National Bureau of Statistics (NSB) in 2017 showed that older people face financial problems, food insecurity, landlessness, debt burdens, abandonment, disrespect, discrimination and social exclusion in some ways.

According to the NSB’s 2017 report, 30 per cent live in humble shelters, 22 per cent have no land, 15 per cent are in debt, 26 per cent face food insufficiency and 63 per cent have financial problems.

Karma Tshering Samdrup, senior policy researcher at GNHC, said there was currently no specific care for the elderly population because there was no specific legislative or financial support system and there were policy gaps.

Karma Tshering Samdrup said that based on the population projections for the elderly in the 2017 Bhutan Population and Housing Census (PHCB), now is the time to formulate policies for the elderly.

“This policy recommends productive aging, health care and protection, safety and security, housing and age-friendly services, and benefits for our seniors,” he said.

He said the initial senior project was limited to declaring October as Senior Day, comprehensive senior health screening, priority counters at health centres and banks, and senior health projects under the Ministry of Health.

Between 2005 and 2017, the proportion of the population aged 65 and older increased from 4.7% (29,745) to 5.9% (43,064).

PHCB projections show that by 2022, the elderly population of Bhutan will be 50,715 people, or 6.7% of the population, and it is expected to increase to 13.4% (118,650 people) by 2047, making the country an “aging” society.

Phuntsho Wangyel, head of the United Nations Population Fund, said that according to the United Nations Population Fund’s population projections, if the age of 60 is used as the cut-off age for the elderly population, the elderly population will exceed the child population by 2047.

“Falling fertility and increased life expectancy have led to an unprecedented increase in the proportion of the elderly population,” he said.

As a result, there is a growing call to see older people as a distinct community that deserves special care and attention, rights, and greater attention to the rights of older people, he said.

To guide policy development, the GNHC, in partnership with the Ministry of Health and the Royal Society of Senior Citizens, held a UNFPA-funded one-day conference with participants from Zung Dratshang, Armed Forces, NGOs, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), Attorney Generals long office and senior representatives.

Delegates recommended policies to introduce nursing homes, retirement incentives and a universal basic income to the elderly.

Pemalam, a representative of civil society organizations, said nursing homes should be one of the options for caring for the elderly. “Incentives to look after parents should be given to children in the same way parents take maternity and paternity leave.”

Leytshog Drungchen and Zung Dratshang, Ugen Namgyal said the policy should effectively address the problem of aging. “Pension should not be limited to civil servants, corporate employees and individuals who make up only a small part of the population.”

He said policy advice and different pension schemes should be provided to benefit more of the population. “I hope my proposal to provide pensions for monks and nuns in Zhuangzhashang will take care of the aging population in the monastery.”

Retired civil servant Sonam Tsewang said that the policy should capture the entire elderly population now and in the future. “The elderly at my age are closed, but now there are emerging elderly people who are open, and the elderly in the future will be more modern.”

Phuntsho Wangyel said policy interventions should ensure older adults remain healthy, active and productive in their later years. “It should be comprehensive enough to take into account the diversity of circumstances and needs of older adults.”

He said the policy should also address eliminating age discrimination, promoting active ageing and ensuring their right to comprehensive and high-quality services.

The GNHC Secretariat is conducting a series of policy development workshops and focus groups and presentations to different sectors ahead of the policy finalization in September.

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