— By Raj Narayan
While dollar remittances for care of the ageing family members is perceived as a panacea for caring and compassion, the truth may be something else.
A recent headline caught my eye… Kerala tops in inward remittances followed by Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. These four states accounted for close to 60% of India’s foreign exchange remittances in 2016-17. Some months ago, another news item caught my eye Number of Seekers of Old-age homes increases in Kerala… Is there a connection between the two?
The romantic at heart may find this ridiculous while the skeptics could merely shrug their shoulders and say, “So what? We always knew that parents in India are glorified only on the silver screen.” However, the truth, as always, might lie somewhere in between these two polarities. For now, let’s park this inquest to one side.
A third factor that came to light last week was the government’s admission that India is aging faster than earlier estimates. The UN Population Fund had estimated that one-in-five Indians will be over 60 by 2050 (three more decades). Government now suggests that while the growth rate in the 1-14 population has slowed, that in the 60-plus range is rising fast. As for the 80-plus group, the estimation is of a whopping 700% growth with a predominance of widowed and highly dependent old women.
And make no mistake, the southern states will have more elderly along with Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. Minister of State for Health & Family Welfare Anupriya Patel states that government is taking steps to ensure care for the elderly… the question is who is going to pay for it?
This brings us to my earlier point about dollar remittances and old age homes. Once over 60, the elderly population’s contribution to the economic growth is considered negligible (should it be so is a topic for another blog). This leaves the youth with the extra burden of earning for themselves and their aged seniors. The quantum of remittances could indicate the outcome of such an effort – both from white-collar and blue-collar workers.
However, to presume that sending more money home can ensure a good second innings for their parents is somewhat akin to taking accident insurance and not being accountable for one’s own safety while driving on the road. The question that comes up is this: Are we perceiving elderly care in the same fashion? Can extra cash solve the problem of old age – which as we know is more psychological in nature than physical? And, which means the solutions may lie not just in medicines but in care and companionship?
My own story of seeking quality care for my ageing mother in the early part of this decade left me with more questions than answers. Agencies offering home care aren’t regulated. The caregiver isn’t exactly trained in the process, nor is she / he interested in the job as sometimes up to 50% of their earnings are pocketed by the agency. Most of them perceive the job as that of a glorified domestic worker.
The outcome: Caregiving that leads to an unhappy and uncared for old age where death is considered to be deliverance!
Is this how we plan to prepare for giving care to one-fifth of our population by 2050? Are there options available out there?
(The author is an NLP Master Practitioner, Family Counsellor and Executive Director at Winage™)