It is that time of the year again when many of us eagerly await the budget speech of the Finance Minister and hope that the budget speech has all the announcements that will make our lives easier and more comfortable. This year, battered by repeated waves of the pandemic, older persons have more urgently felt needs that need immediate attention. Who else can they approach but their own government to help them out of this seemingly long and dark tunnel?
The needs have remained more or less the same over the last many years, though priorities have shifted depending on extraneous factors. Social security to live life with dignity, geriatric health care and safety & security and inclusion is critical. In the post pandemic phase where older persons are facing shrinking employment opportunities due to lockdowns and decrease in income of the family in many cases, it is of vital significance that social pension be universalized. At least those at the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ as they say, women, disabled, oldest old should be universally covered. Increase in the cost of living makes it difficult for the older persons to cope, so an increase in the central contribution to the ‘Indira Gandhi Old Age Pension Scheme’ to Rs.1000 /month/beneficiary (60-79 years) and Rs.1500 (80+). The purchasing power of the current amount of Rs. 200 is not hard to imagine.
Poverty can be hidden, as we all know, and those older persons who depend on income from FDs and savings, may not appear poor and stressed, but they do feel the pinch and need a helping hand by way of tax benefits on interest income earned. After all we all know that inflation eats constantly into our savings each year. So, 80TTB interest limit for deduction on income to be increased from Rs.50,000 to Rs.1 lakh. And if possible, raise in income tax exemption limit to Rs. 10 lakh. Higher limits to be particularly considered for older women (60+) and all senior citizens in oldest old segment (80+).
Health is of utmost significance in last phase of life and older persons in India have struggled to get affordable, accessible and appropriate health care. The issues of health care financing and infrastructure, needs a hard and serious look. Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) should make an outreach to universally cover older persons, so that hospitalization needs are covered. National Programme for Health Care of Elderly (NPHCE) should be available in all the districts of the country and its budget should be available exclusively and also monitored likewise. Those paying for their own insurance, a deduction of up to Rs 2 Lakh u/s 80D for medical insurance including home care services, for all ailments would be a step in the right direction.
When a family is going through crisis who are the members who are expected to make sacrifices, or to put it bluntly who are neglected, mostly older persons and women. If in India we take pride in the fact that the family has till date stood steadfast in being the most important agency of elder care, then when it is stressed due to the pandemic and unable to take on the care burden, it would be desirable to help them continue. Therefore, high time that we consider seriously the proposition for increased basic tax exemption of Rs.3.5 lakhs for the independent young-old and Rs.5.5 lakhs for the oldest-old.
The pandemic has made us all digital savvy out of necessity, but older persons are still far behind. If we want to build back better and leave no one behind, then then should have digital inclusion of older persons to begin with and special allocation for training them and providing them access to the necessary equipment.
Since we are at building an inclusive future and the future belongs to older persons, as the National Family Health Survey 5 has reiterated, we ought to have at least one ministry exclusively addressing the concerns of the 140 million older persons who are soon expected to be 329 million.
Before you and I know, we will be there! Would you like to be ignored? Not me!
Head – Policy Research & Advocacy, HelpAge India