Monday, September 19, 2011

The lack of a plan for 10m elderly Thais is astounding

If it is the value of an asset, 10 million would be quite huge for most Thais given that per capita income is Bt141,000 (US$4,700).

It is also huge if it represents the sub-population of the elderly, against the total population of 64 million. This shows that the number of people aged 60 and over is huge.

Given their age, they are supposed not to work anymore, but according to a study by the Thailand Development Research Institute, some still have to work to support themselves.

The research results also provide a striking insight. Against the national birth-rate of less than 2 per cent, the number of the elderly is growing at a faster pace.

It is alarming, if we look forward with memories of the past lingering on. Forty years ago, in each family, there were no more than two grandparents - either the parents of our father or mother. They were outnumbered by children, as each family tended to have three, five or even more children.

It was then easier for the children to help take care of the grandparents. But with the reverse growth rate, soon - perhaps in two decades - our productive society would be outnumbered by the elderly.

Two decades come quickly, and without any measures to cope with this, all will be doomed. Upper middle-income earners can support their grandparents financially, but others are also there to suck in your wealth given that they are parts of our society. More taxes to finance schemes for the elderly are in the picture.

Should these taxes be levied hugely at one time, or should a gradual taxation scheme be put in place? This is the issue that all Thai governments avoid to answer outright. Understandably, they are in office for a maximum four years and they don't bother to think about long-term issues like this.

Indeed, Thai taxpayers are being subjected to gradual taxation for the elderly. The Thai Rak Thai and Democrat parties apparently thought that free medical services for the elderly were a good start for "gradual taxation". Both, though now TRT has been transformed into Pheu Thai, also support their elderly allowance scheme.

It is sad that none of that is included in a grand scheme, which should be designed around the life of a person after they turn 60. Despite their age, they need the four basic necessities. And given their age, extra necessities are required, particularly medical care and physical support in times of sickness.

It is astonishing that when the government is willing to splash as much as Bt30 billion on the first-car scheme, which would only worsen the weather and health conditions with higher carbon emissions, there is no integrated plan to cope with the greying society.

The Pheu Thai government is also generous in adopting step-up monthly allowances for the elderly, starting at Bt500. The blanket scheme covers everyone out of the pension network, regardless of his family fortunes. It is not directed to only the needy.

At that rate, each year, it requires at least Bt30 billion of taxpayers' money. For four years, it amounts to Bt120 billion - more than enough to finance a permanent scheme that could involve volunteers and transportation services for senior citizens.

An integrated plan is vital, given that in the past 50 years life expectancy has increased from 58.5 to 73.8 years. Simply put, most people 50 years ago died before enjoying retirement, but now they have to make sure that their savings is enough for their retired life which could last 14 years or more.

What is sad is most voters are as shortsighted as politicians, willing to vote for short-term gains. That explains why most politicians come up with plans to please their supporters during their tenure and why no politician bothers to come up with long-term plans to win votes. Foreseeable is they will have to learn it the hard way.

Yes, we can opt for affordable houses and cars at the present, but it has been proved impossible to bargain for cheap medical services when you are old. By Achara Deboonme - The Nation

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