The 21st century will be the century of the ageing society. According to the United Nations, around 10% of the total population during this century will be defined as ageing (aged 60 or older). This demographic change to an ageing society will require attention and more active responses from policymakers around the world.
Thailand is no exception. A more focused approach that guarantees important social protection and assistance is necessary if Thai society hopes to thrive over the coming decades.
The Thai ageing population will double from 10.3 million (16.2% of the total population) now to 20.5 million in 2040 (32.1% of the total population.)
For these 20.5 million people, the principal concern is that not only will we have a large increase in older people, but that there will be important structural changes within this group. For example, over the next 25 years, the number of people classified as the “oldest of the old” (80 years or older) will increase from about 1.4 million to almost 4 million. For those classed as the “middle old” (aged 70-79), there will be a rise from about three million to almost eight million.
These groups are of particular concern because they face the highest amount of health expenses, have the lowest earnings and savings, and are highly dependent on their children for supplemental income. Moreover, if we look at the total population of the ageing society, approximately one in 10 are living alone, and almost four in 10 fall into the categories of widowed, divorced, separated, or never married.
As more of the ageing society moves into the “middle old” and “oldest of the old” groups, Thailand will need to work more to support those who are increasingly living alone.
Thailand has had social assistance programmes for different age groups since October 2011. The government has recently applied a programme to raise the monthly allowance, ranging from 600 baht in total for the 60-69 year-old group to 1,000 baht for those aged 90 years old and older.
Though this policy may be better than nothing, it is clearly not enough to help solve the urgent demographic challenges sure to come from the changes outlined above. The current policies do not even take into account the cost of inflation.
Under the current assistance programmes, there is no effort made to differentiate among people in a particular age group. For example, within one group there may be a very wide range of living circumstances that one may face. While a small number may be well off enough to not need the financial assistance, for those with low financial resources, limited social networks to depend on, and housing costs, they need much more than 600-1,000 baht per month.
To better address the challenges that will come from a growing “oldest of the old” population that are most likely to suffer from a lack of social participation, have increased health problems, decreased income levels, and often need daily caregivers, Thailand needs a better set of policies.
First, it must increase the amount of financial support given to the “oldest of the old” population. Next, it should reduce the out-of-pocket medical costs that those in an ageing society usually have to pay.
There should also be free caregivers for the “oldest of the old” who are living alone and have little ability to support themselves both financially and emotionally.
Going forward, more funding should be allocated for research and development of policies that will address the urgent problems posed by a rapidly ageing population.
Only through a commitment to finding innovative policy solutions to these problems will we be able to have a more equitable and prosperous population in the years to come.
Phacharawadee Tasee is a researcher at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI). Policy analyses from the TDRI appear in the Bangkok Post on alternate Wednesdays.
First published: Bangkok Post, October 28, 2015