Thailand coming up with strategies to handle an ageing society

PHOTO: The Nation/ANN

As elderly people will account for a fourth of the population by 2028, the government has come up with a strategy to set up health centres and give older people vocational opportunities, Social Development and Human Security Minister Adul Saengsingkaew said.

Adul was speaking in an exclusive interview with Nation Multimedia Group's editorinchief, Thepchai Yong, on NOW26's "26th Hour" on Thursday. Also present was Anusan Thienthong, chief of the newly established Department of Older Persons.

Adul said some 10 per cent of the population or 10 million people were over 60 now, and by 2020 this figure would go beyond 20 per cent, making Thailand an "aged society", and "super aged" when the number rises to nearly 30 per cent by 2050.

The government's latest strategy is to ensure that elderly people are of "good quality" as defined by good physical and mental health, as well as capable of working until the age of 65-70, he said. People in the fields of education, medicine, technology and craftsmanship are already working beyond retirement age, he added.

Asked if this was the time to consider extending the retirement age for state officials, Adul said it would be considered as "age is just a number", citing recent research that people working beyond retirement actually live longer. He said an extended life span meant warmer family life, and those who maintained an active lifestyle and did charity work could live until the age of 80 to 90.

The minister confirmed that the government was giving this matter importance, adding that a steering committee led by Deputy Prime Minister Yongyuth Yuthawong had been assigned the task, while a national assembly had been put in place to gather opinions.

"We are focusing on local communities. We have 878 elderly care centres nationwide already and are trying to encourage communities to create their own care system. We will also provide training to 80,000 volunteers in the communities," he said.

Adul said that when Thailand became a "super aged society", it would have fewer workers, hence all parties must adjust, apply more technology and put in place health security.

"We have to take care of people's health and living conditions, as well as boost work quality so they can continue working. Moreover, savings should be sufficient to ensure a comfortable retirement, as people will need to depend on themselves as much as they can."

Last year, the Provincial Administrative Department reported that the number of elderly people had risen to about 14 per cent, while the birth rate had dropped to less than 1 per cent, Anusan said.

The key problems old people face are deteriorating health, income and social interaction, hence state agencies under the Interior, Public Health and Labour ministries had created strategies to ensure their income and extended work opportunities, he said.

Unlike Japan and Singapore, Thailand already has farmers and poor people doing odd jobs, hence providing everybody with a pension or social security is challenging, with many ending up living on state-granted allowances, Anusan added.

However, he said, the private sector would be encouraged to extend the retirement age from 55, while the public sector would offer incentives such as tax rebates for those taking care of their aged parents.

He also said older people should be offered life-long education, easy access to public transport, and opportunities to exchange knowledge and learn new skills. Those entering old age should be strong so they can become a force for Thai society and offer wisdom for it to move forward, he said.