A plan to age with grace

The cabinet last week agreed to amend the Labour Protection Act to improve benefits for workers and the elderly. The law, once enacted, will compensate retired employees according to the duration of their employment.

The planned compensation aims to prepare Thailand for becoming an elderly society by providing senior citizens with a sum of money to use after retirement.

However, the compensation alone will not be sufficient to help Thailand transition into a senior citizen-friendly country. In addition to the monetary assistance, infrastructure should also be improved to help elderly people lead a productive lifestyle.

The planned retirement payout may help the elderly to get by financially. However, it would be more useful if senior citizens are able to continue living productively in their golden years.

Thailand became an ageing society in 2005, meaning over 10% of its population is classified as elderly. By 2030 it is forecast that 25% of the population will be over 60.

However, most Thais are not prepared for this. It is predicted that by 2033 the majority of these people will live alone with inadequate incomes and welfare. Many senior citizens do not have enough savings to live on after retirement.

A research from Mahidol University released in 2015 showed that old people in Thailand had an average income of only 3,013 baht per month, compared to average expenses of 2,751 baht. Forty percent of them had an average household debt of 40,179 baht. Therefore, 58% of senior citizens had to continue working to earn a living.

Two-thirds of old people said senior citizens should continue working and it is necessary to promote the employment of old people.

Thailand is still struggling to move past the middle-income trap, making it more challenging than other Asian nations with ageing societies such as South Korea and Japan.

Keeping the elderly motivated and productive would help Thailand remain competitive economically. People over 60 are not necessarily passive. In spite of the degenerating joints and grey hair that comes with age, they are still able to do other jobs based on their knowledge and experience.

Related agencies should develop and produce technology to enable elderly people to live independently and productively such as hearing aids and vehicles for old people to move around by themselves.

Old people should receive special retraining programmes to make them relevant to the job market. Some countries provide tax incentives for companies to rehire elderly people because it would wasteful to have such experienced workers sit idly at home.

Meanwhile, Thailand’s current pension plan also needs urgent reform to ensure its sustainability. The system should be well-managed with proper risk management, while engaging the participation of all employees.

The employers or the companies should offer sufficient guidance to their employees into retirement to help them get prepared for their retirement years.

The companies must share the government’s responsibility in assisting the retirees who used to be their dedicated workers.

Everyone should be prepared to become part of the ageing society from an early age. Not only old people, but the young should also be taught the value of saving. In fact, students should learn about financial management from an early age as part of their life-skills education.

Also, infrastructure should incorporate the concept of an ageing society with proper facilities such as ramps and wheelchair-compatible footpaths.

Ageing is a reality but it is not necessarily bad if we all learn to cope with it. Society’s mindset should be changed from seeing old people as burdens to perceiving them as qualified human resources.

With good support from the government and their employers, everyone can get old and wise.

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