Time To Care For The Elderly In Poverty

We drive past them on the road all the time. Frail and hunched over, pushing on trolleys laden with scrap, trudging on under the blazing sun. Sometimes we see them by the five-foot-way mending shoes, or selling pens at restaurants. The elderly poor in Malaysia have to scrounge for odd jobs and dramatically limit spending to survive in the final leg of their lives. The fear that money will run out is real.

Source: Free Malaysia Today

2.3 million are above 65 in 2020[1]

Due to the confluence of increased life expectancy and lowered fertility rate, Malaysia is now an ageing society. As of 2020, 7.1% (2.32 million) of Malaysia’s population are aged 65 and above[1], and in 2 decades it is expected to rise to 14.5%[2].

Today, a woman celebrating her 60th birthday is expected to live for another 21.2 years; a man is expected to live for another 18.4 years[3]. If you are an 80-year-old woman, it’s likely you’ll live for another 7 years[4]

According to the United Nations Populations Project, Malaysia will be an aged nation by the year 2045[5].

Without proper safety nets in place for the ageing, this can have implications on all aspects of society.

Why is being poor and old so difficult?

Elderly Left to Survive on Less than Half of What is Considered Poor

Source: Free Malaysia Today

Many Malaysians do not have enough money saved for retirement. According to a World Bank report, only 60.8% of the Malaysian labour force contributes to the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF), which is low when compared to an aspirational group of high-income countries[6]

In 2020, it was publicly disclosed that 7 out of 10 active EPF users have less than RM50,000 in their savings account. [7] World Bank also released that the same statistic has less than RM250,000 in their savings when they have reached the age of 54 [6].

This means that if they live to 75 years old, which is the life expectancy at birth[3], they can only afford to spend RM1,050 per month to tide through their remaining years[6]. This amount is well below the revised Poverty Line Income of RM2208.

1 in 10 Elderly Subjected To Abuse

Mr K is 85 years old widower who lives on his own. This arrangement comes after being made to feel unwanted and unloved, in addition to being physically abused by his granddaughter. He has 5 children, but only one son visits him whenever he can. Most of the time, he is socially isolated in the house and is at risk of depression and exacerbated functional decline[8].

Source: The Borneo Post

This is the reality faced by many elderly people in Malaysia. Many are subjected to neglect, psychological, physical, financial, and sexual abuse, and unfortunately, we as a society have been fairly tolerant of it.

Recent studies show that 1 in 10 elderly amongst the urban poor and 1 in 20 elderly in rural communities have suffered some form of abuse.[9] [10] 

Increased Dependency On Others

Many go from being near poor to poor in their silver years as they are being forced down the workforce rung or retrenched. Those who are stricken by health problems and less able-bodied are on the other hand, at the mercy of caregivers. The fear of being a burden to their families is constantly at the forefront of their minds. 

Source: Business Times

The old-age dependency ratio in Malaysia is rising. Approximately 10 workers are needed to support each elderly person[11].

This means that those of working age (15-64 years of age) are facing a greater economic burden to support the elderly.  This causes the elderly to be more vulnerable as families struggle to cope with their needs. 

Health Problems

Source: Free Malaysia Today

Losing health is part of the normal ageing process and is a central concern of the elderly, especially if money is an issue.  Health problems specific to poverty and old age are such as malnutrition, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, diabetes, cataracts, and kidney diseases[12]

Even if elderly poor do have a modest amount saved up from their low-paying jobs, any illness or disease that demands health care would quickly wipe out whatever savings they have. 

What Can Be Done To Help The Elderly Poor In Malaysia

It is an inconvenient reality, but it is high time we fix our tenuous safety nets for the elderly poor and help them retain their dignity. The issue of ageing is multifaceted and requires multi-pronged strategies from the government, private sector, NGOs, and the community.  Some policy options for inclusive ageing to consider are:

  • Increasing budget allocation and broadening the eligibility criteria for social assistance programs such as Bantuan Sara Hidup (BSH) and Bantuan Am(BA) so that less will fall through the cracks of government assistance.
  • Gradually increasing the minimum retirement age to 65 to increase the participation of older workers in the labour market. This will increase the likelihood of sufficient income at an older age and reduce ageism in the workplace.
  • Providing opportunities for lifelong learning and mastery of new skills so that older workers can remain relevant to the workforce and current industries.
  • Improving minimum income protection for older workers. We can consider gradually increasing the minimum withdrawal age for EPF from 55 to 65 or transitioning to phased withdrawals of EPF balances. Another option is financing social pensions through taxation to support the most vulnerable among us.
  • Building an inclusive aged care system by improving the infrastructure of aged care homes and upgrading skills of aged care workers. In the long run, it is recommended to selectively increase public financing for home and community based aged care so that there will be sufficient coverage of the B40 group. 

 Explore Our Sources: 

  1. Department of Statistics Malaysia. (2020). Demographic Statistics Third Quarter 2020, Malaysia. Link.
  2. Department of Statistics Malaysia. (2020). Current Population Estimates, Malaysia, 2020. Link.
  3. Department of Statistics Malaysia. (2020). ABRIDGED LIFE TABLES, MALAYSIA, 2018-2020. Link.
  4. Department of Statistics Malaysia. (2019). Selected Demographic Indicators Malaysia, 2019. Link.
  5. Universiti Malaya. (2021). Malaysia Ageing and Retirement Survey (MARS) Wave 1 2018/2019: Key Findings. Social Wellbeing Research Centre (SWRC). Link.
  6. World Bank. (2020). A Silver Lining: Productive and Inclusive Aging for Malaysia. Link.
  7. Y. S. Heong. (2020). Decent Wages are the answer to low EPF Savings. The New Strait Times. Link.
  8. Sooryanarayana, R. et al. (2017). Alone and Lonely: A Case Report on Elder Abuse in Malaysia. Semantic Scholar. Link.
  9. Sooryanarayana, R. et al. (2015). Insight Into Elder Abuse Among Urban Poor of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia—A Middle‐Income Developing Country. American Geriatrics Society (AGS). Link.
  10. Sooryanarayana, R. et al. (2017). The prevalence and correlates of elder abuse and neglect in a rural community of Negeri Sembilan state: baseline findings from The Malaysian Elder Mistreatment Project (MAESTRO), a population-based survey. BMJ. Link.
  11. Index Mundi. (2019). Malaysia – Age dependency ratio. Link.
  12. The Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit (MAMPU). (2020). Getting information of health for senior citizens. Link.

Written by: Mabel Soo Sheau Sze

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