A better deal for seniors

It is heartrending and perplexing that in 2017, people in their 70s and 80s still have to spend four hours and more at post offices around the country every month to encash pension vouchers. The lament over this situation has been ongoing for years, decades even, with minimum relief being given.

The snafus surrounding the distribution of pensions have been myriad, well documented and roundly criticized over the years. They range from what amounted to abuse of the elderly with pensioners passing out from the heat or being drenched in the rain to numerous events of robbery, including under arms, where entire pension payouts were snatched from post offices. The latter, of course, would have caused delays in payments further inconveniencing elders.

Ministers, both under the previous administration and the present, have sought to address the issues by arranging for better distribution of pension books, including in some instances taking books to shut-in pensioners.

However, these moves have only allayed the burdens experienced by pensioners in receiving their books of vouchers, and this exercise is carried out annually. They failed to effectively fix the more pertinent problem, the situation at post offices which most pensioners must visit on a monthly basis. What is more, because many old-age pensioners are practically indigent, they can hardly wait for the given date to receive their payouts. The post office administration has also sought to alleviate the suffering of the elderly by putting out tents and chairs to make their wait a bit more comfortable, but the long waiting periods still have to be endured today.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it would be better all around if pensions—both old age and National Insurance Scheme (NIS)—were to be paid into accounts. This would obviously remove the real threat of armed robberies at post offices and free up the police officers required to safeguard the movement of cash to do actual policing.

In addition, having a bank account should be a requirement for anyone applying for a government or NIS pension, and current pensioners should be strongly encouraged to open accounts. It would be one way of keeping post office lines and paper transactions to a minimum and to avoid circumstances like those that occurred on Monday at post offices. It was about noon that a Stabroek News reporter spoke to an 81-year-old woman who had been waiting at the Bourda Post Office for her pension payment since 7.30 am. She was to be served at number 93 and there were others after her. Despite her obvious frustration she was still sensitive enough to suggest that proper systems be put in place to service sick pensioners as priority.

It would appear that the government’s much vaunted plan for elderly care to ensure seniors’ rights are upheld and respected, which was announced back in April this year, will only cover resident-care homes and does not extend to how they are treated outside of that. Not that this is not a very important area where standards need to be set and adhered to, but it should not preclude addressing the treatment of seniors in all aspects of their lives.

There is no denying the fact that the elderly population is growing; this is the situation the world over – people are living longer. Policies and plans being made now, must factor this in or fail. Although the average age of policymakers in this country places them among the group called senior citizens, it is clear that none of them identify with this bracket. For one thing, they are all still employed and for another even after they are no longer drawing salaries or consultants’ fees, they will hardly be lining up at post offices for their pensions. One has to wonder if they ever even see the lines at the post offices for what they really are and the humiliation that has to be associated with queuing for a pittance.

Global patterns point to the cohort of elderly continuing to grow and so will the challenges. It is likely, too, that the inequalities will rise as the population ages. The trials of today’s low-income elders therefore, will seem like a drop in the ocean compared to what they will look like in 20 or 30 years when there will be that many more of them to contend with. Ensuring that they are treated humanely is the very least that should be done, and this should start today.

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