SENIOR citizens in Malaysia have it tough. A lot of infrastructure and development projects are done with the young in mind. The elderly seem to be an afterthought.
Whether it is infrastructure, transportation, jobs, media commercials or community, very often it is not inclusive of senior citizens.
After many years of toiling, taking care of their families and contributing to society and towards building this country, the seniors now find themselves a forgotten lot.
Datuk Dr Soon Ting Kueh, president of the National Council of Senior Citizens Organisations Malaysia (Nacscom), says a lot more needs to be done to help the seniors.
“We are lacking in welfare services, infrastructure, aged-friendly environment …. We are not prepared to become an ageing society. Malaysia has 7-8% of the population over 60 now and by 2030 we will be an ageing society, but are we ready?
“Many things are not ready.
“Look at your homes, they’re not aged-friendly. There are three bedrooms upstairs, the elderly parents have to climb up the stairs, the bathroom tiles are slippery, there are no grab bars, is there proper lighting?
“Even outdoors, the transportation and public buildings – they are not aged-friendly.
“But as more and more of the population become senior citizens over the next few years, are we ready for it?” he asks.
There’s also discrimination against the senior citizens. When it comes to jobs, they are not assessed based on their skills, knowledge and experience but rather, their age.
Soon believes education, raising awareness and even a change in mentality is what’s needed.
Malaysians need to be more inclusive of senior citizens and treat them with more respect. In every area of life and the community, the seniors need to be taken into account; similarly for the disabled community.
Among the areas that Malaysia needs to work on are:
Awareness and education
Soon says that the government needs to play a role here in helping to raise consciousness of older people and their contributions to society and the country. “The senior citizens have to be respected and treated with care,” he says.
Laws to protect the elderly
Malaysia is debating whether to come up with a law to force adult children to take care of their parents. Do we need it? “There’s such a law in Singapore. We are not in favour of it. It doesn’t work when you force children to take care of their parents. There are cases where the children gain all the property and inheritance from the parents and then abandon them. We hope not to get to the stage where we have to have a law forcing children to take responsibility for their elderly parents.”
Representation in the federal government, state governments, city councils
Soon says there should be a senior citizen on the local council so that they can voice their issues and speak for the elderly. He suggests that even in Dewan Negara, there should be representation.
Health system that takes into account the senior citizens
While government hospitals offer healthcare at more affordable rates, Soon questions if the quality is up to par. He laments that the more expensive medication is not supplied at government hospitals, and patients need to buy them at their neighbourhood pharmacy.
Nacscom wants the government to look into the financial security of older persons.
“Previously we had family support. The adult children and their children lived with the elderly parents in one house. But now, in Asia, family values are breaking down. Adult children now want to move out of the house once they are independent. They even abandon their parents. The elderly need some other form of support.
“There is EPF and pension, but many of those with EPF don’t have enough money to live for another 20 years. Even pensioners who get less than RM1,000 a month find it is not enough to survive,” says Soon.
While there might be retirement savings schemes like the PRS (Private Retirement Scheme), Soon questions how the housewives, fishermen and labourers are supposed to save up for it.
He said if the retirement age is extended to 60 for the private sector as well, then the number of years that the senior citizen would need to be cared for would be less by five years.
“That will make a lot of difference. To me, up to 60, you are still good, why should you retire, unless you are doing some hard labour job? If it’s an office job, there’s no difference whether you’re 55 or 60 and as you grow older, you have more experience and expertise.”
Soon believes the government plays a big role in effecting change and making our country more aware of senior citizens.
In the past, the government has engaged Nacscom to discuss some of the changes that need to be made.
Nacscom is now part of the National Advisory and Consultative Council for the Elderly, under the purview of the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development.
“We only meet once a year. What can we do? The minister said we might try to meet twice a year, but it hasn’t happened.
“The government should put their words into action.”
He suggests that the government give incentives to companies that have corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects for the older generation.
“Senior citizens are very often a neglected lot. The government should pay some attention to their needs. It’s not always money; there are other things as well.
“But nothing much is done. Until recently, the ministry didn’t even have a senior citizens section.
“Look at the plight of the senior citizens. How can we help them, especially the ones who are poor and abandoned,” he says.
One of the ideas that Nacscom has it to have a special identity card for the elderly.
The card should have their photo and details. It would look different from the MyKad so that everyone who sees it will know instantly that the holder is a senior citizen.
“The National Registration Department has all our details. The moment a person reaches 60, they can issue the new identity card and it’s up to you to go and get it so that you can enjoy the benefits.
“You don’t need other cards. The holder can benefit from privileges extended to them – transport, cinema, bookstores. Even when they go overseas, this card is useful,” he says.
Why not just show your MyKad to get the privileges? It slows the process down at shops and on buses because the person in charge would need to do the math and figure out the MyKad holder’s age.
“We have many cards in our wallets now, but if that ID is important to me, I will always carry it. If having the card gives me half price on the bus, I will take it along,” he says.
At this moment you may have one senior citizen, five working people and two children in a family. But very soon, this will change and you will have more senior citizens and those working will be fewer. It is projected that by 2050, the ratio will be 1:1, that is, one working adult supporting one senior citizen.
This is not a pretty picture if the working adult also has to support their children and pay for their house loan, car loan and student loan.
“We are not ready to become an ageing society. We still need to look into the financial, welfare services, health, environment, buildings, transportation, rights, discrimination …. There are many issues to be discussed.
“I hope the government, community and corporate sector can come together to look at the ageing population – what are the problems and issues, and be prepared for it, rather than being caught off-guard when the time comes. Then, it will become a social issue as well,” warns Soon.