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Current Social Security for The Elderly in India – How good is it?

By V. Venkateswara Rao, a retired corporate professional and a freelance writer.

Designed by ijeab / Freepik
Designed by ijeab / Freepik

The protection which the society and/or government provides for its elders, through a series of public measures can be defined as social security. Broadly speaking – all aspects of assured nutrition, shelter, healthcare, financial security and welfare of senior citizens fall under the gambit of “Social Security for the Elderly”. Due to break-down of traditional structures like joint family system, children working in faraway places, lack of meaningful work opportunities in old age, no or meagre pension for non-government employees and ever-increasing healthcare costs coupled with increasing longevity – social security measures are important and at times the only means of support for elderly people. In India, more than 50% of elders are in dire need of social security measures.

Living and leaving in a dignified way is the fond wish of all elders. Their basic concerns center around the required gear to succeed in this end game. These are financial security or regular cash flows to meet living expenses, access to affordable healthcare and a life of self-esteem – not depending on or inconveniencing others – and some respect by the society for what they are and some emotional companionship of like-minded people or communities.

There is an acute need to provide suitable social security measures targeted especially for the elderly poor who, with their deteriorating health conditions, are unable to work for an earning and hardly have any savings to fall back upon. Apart from the pension and medical benefit schemes to the retired employees of government and organized sector – Central Government and State Governments have introduced several piece-meal social security measures for the elderly poor, informal sector workers and women.

National Old Age Pension Scheme (renamed as Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme or IGNOAPS) targeting at the destitute elderly was launched by the Central Government in 1995. It provides for a pension of Rs 200 per month for elderly persons in the age group 60-79 years and Rs 500 for those above 80. Apart from it, several state governments also offer their own old age pensions ranging from Rs 500/- to 3000/- per month for BPL elders. Annapurna Scheme launched in 2000 provides for food security (35 kg of food grains per month free of cost) to senior citizens not covered under IGNOAPS.

Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizen’s Act 2007 enables senior citizens, if they so desire, to claim maintenance allowance up to Rs 10,000 per month from their children. The Act also envisages i) establishment and management of Old Age Homes for the needy elderly and ii) provision of geriatric beds and wards in Government hospitals, partially or fully funded by the government.

To create a social security net for the poor and underprivileged, the union budget 2015-16 introduced an insurance scheme and a pension scheme. The Atal Pension Yojana provides a defined pension depending on contribution and its duration. The Central Government will contribute 50% of beneficiaries’ premium for 5 years. The Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Beema Yojana will cover accidental death risk of Rs 2,00,000/- for a premium of just Rs 12/- per year. In 2018, the Central Government has launched an ambitious Medicare or ModiCare scheme. Ayushman Bharat Scheme will cover over 10 crore poor and vulnerable families, providing them medical coverage up to Rs 5 lakh per family per year for secondary and tertiary care hospitalization. The entitlement of families for the scheme will be decided on the basis of deprivation criteria for the urban and rural areas. The beneficiaries will not be required to pay any charges or premium for the hospitalization expenses.

Apart from these social security measures, there are several other concessions offered to senior citizens (irrespective of their income) like travel fare concession for train & air journey, higher rate of interest offered by banks on fixed deposits and income tax concessions. Indian Railways offer 40% concession in railway ticket rates for 60+ males and 50% concession for 58+ females respectively. Domestic airlines offer 50% concession in the airfare for persons who are 63 years and older.

Unlike in developed countries, social security measures for the elderly in India are neither universal nor fully funded by the government. A developing country like India cannot afford the costs of a comprehensive, universal and funded social security net. More micro level initiatives by voluntary organizations and industry are needed in creating enabling eco- system to create suitable work opportunities for the elders to make use of their vast experience and wisdom. Better awareness and easy administration of existing schemes is also need of the hour.

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