POPULATION Ageing 2019 from the United Nation's Department of Economic and Social Affairs reveals that in 2019, there were 703 million persons aged 65 years or over in the world, and the number of older persons is projected to double to 1.5 billion in 2050.
As it stands, in regions such as North America, Europe, Japan, and China, ageing population is an extremely critical issue. This is especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, the elderly is the most vulnerable group. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 40.3 million U.S. residents 65 years and older in the 2010 Census and more than 54 million on July 1, 2019.
China, meanwhile, is entering a phase of rapid ageing, and there will be about 400 million elderly population in the country by 2033, according to South China Morning Post. Supporting ageing population proves to be a formidable challenge, especially when the number and ratio of elderly are constantly on the rise.
Countries like Japan have already been ageing fast; by 2030, one in every three people in Japan will be 65 or older, and one in five people 75-plus years old. Ageing population also proves to be a unignorable issue in Europe, as the population of those aged 65 years or more in the EU-27 will reach 129.8 million by 2050.
Southeast Asian countries too, are heading towards ageing society. According to the Asean Post, the population of Singapore over the age of 65 is expected to reach 26.6 per cent in 2035, while older adults in Thailand is expected to reach 22.8 per cent and the country's old-age dependency ratio is estimated to be than 50 per cent by 2050.
For Malaysia, the country's Statistics Department reveals that Malaysia would become an ageing society by 2030 when 15 per cent of its population turn to 60 and above.
What accountable elderly welfare is much noticeable among policy argumentation. The level of social security and welfare is closely related to the modernization process of national governance, and a major expenditure for social welfare is supporting the ageing population.
On the one hand, as the ageing population increases, there are more pressures for the government's expenditure, while on the other hand, this also reflects that the proportion of the working population has declined, the total output capacity of the society has been weakened, government taxation will be reduced, which in turn signifies that the financial power of public expenditure is weakened.
According to 2017/2019 statistics, the two largest public social expenditures of Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries are pensions and public health expenditures. The level of public expenditure in each member country is quite different, and this is related to the age structure of the population, the number of elderly people enjoying pension and medical security, and the social security system.
In the Netherlands and the United States, social expenditures on personal health and pensions account for more than 12.5% of GDP, the highest proportion among OECD member countries. In terms of pension expenditure, Italy and Greece have the highest proportion of GDP, accounting for more than 15 per cent of GDP. Meanwhile, Iceland, Chile and South Korea have the lowest, which is less than 3 per cent of GDP.
To ease the burden on welfare benefits and labor shortages, the mandatory retirement age is increased gradually in some countries. The Abe administration called for a reform of the Japanese pension system to correspond with "100-year life". Japan will implement its plan since the year of 2022 to extend the retirement age for their civil servants to 65 in 2030, from the current 60, while large corporate employers like Nojima announced their working age up to 80.
Britain has set the timetables to legislate its increase in State Pension Age from 65 to 67. A decade ago, the eligible age to claim the state pension was at 60 for women and at 65 for men in the UK.
According to the Outline of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for National Economic and Social Development and the Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035, China will take small steps to raise the retirement age currently for men at 60, women at 55 for white-collar workers and 50 for blue-collar employees.
In terms of graying population's welfare, the US government has implemented some limited measures in the past, including pension subsidies for the elderly, and during this age of Covid-19, financial and medical assistance from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
However, these are far from sufficiently providing adequate aid to the large number of elderly Americans. With Joe Biden emerged victoriously as the 46th US President, the US society will become more integrated than in the past, with some of the major domestic issues, and the future of American society is likely to opt for transformation towards welfare-oriented, which would mean that older population of the US will be likely to receive better health and financial support.
Even during his presidential election campaign, Biden had promised a list of supports for the elderly, which includes paid leave and tax credits for families caring for older persons, as well as providing more funding for community-based long-term services and supports, in addition to reforming the Social Security. Although it remains to be seen how effective and efficient all these can be fulfilled, by rolling out pandemic recovery stimulus package, at least some of these aspects will see certain improvements.
With high amount of spending for the increasing number of advanced age population, it is particularly daunting for countries during the pandemic period, as well as in the post-Covid world. During the pandemic, elderly people were the most vulnerable group. The age-friendly cities would be well protected with advanced care services, i.e., remote health monitoring, online diagnosis, daily care robots, and mental comfort.
Digital solutions that help tackle with issues for population of older ages are to rely on technology collaboration, develop aging products integrated with VR, AI, cloud, IoT, 5G/6G, robotics, biometrics, and anti-digital crime. The equality with access to the Internet and conceivable gadgets could prepare for older people in uncertainties.
Foreseeably, scientific and technological welfare will increasingly play more vital roles to reassure the elderly's needs in a city district or a rural village. Smart solutions can offer data platforms open to the community and engage business executives who are able to make the public and private partnerships in financing and improving welfare distribution. New forms of business will provide the aging population with more desirable health care, medicare, leisure and entertainment.
With the adaptation of technology, elderly services can reduce costs and promote efficiency, alleviate the current situation of poor information circulation and shortage of human resources. There is thus an urgency for policymakers to rethink creating an inclusive service system for elderly people at home, in their community, and in hospice care.
All in all, the well-being for the graying population is a pressing issue for governments, medical professions, service industry, property developers, and family members. This is now the high time for all to get well-prepared for what lies ahead.
Yi Wang is Head of Global Development Program and Senior Consulting Fellow, ANBOUND and SK Chia is Chief Editor, ANBOUND Malaysia