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What is the future for seniors?

Seniors, like most people, around the world are struggling with the current lock downs. What of their future? Lucia Dore looks at the economic implications of COVID-19 for seniors and what may happen in the future.

The future economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on seniors varies between countries - from Europe and the Americas to Asia/Pacific. From the information we have so far, it appears that the more socially democratic countries have responded earlier and harder to the COVID-19 pandemic than the less socially democratic.

The most successful countries have shut borders, locked down early and hard, have a reasonably compliant population who took social distancing seriously, with most people staying inside a "bubble" (that is, staying within a group of a limited number of friends). As a consequence, they have succeeded in eliminating, or flattening the curve, more quickly than many other countries. These countries tend to be in South East Asia and Asia/Pacific and include South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

Many countries have fared less well than those mentioned above, including a number in Europe such as Spain, Italy and the UK, and in the Americas, including America, Brazil and Ecuador. Although the numbers are larger than many would wish in the Middle East and Africa, the number of deaths from COVID-19 has not reached the heights of some countries, yet.

In the US alone more than 106,000 people have died of coronovirus – or 30 people per 100,000- although there are concerns that figure could be higher because of a lack of testing. However, this compares to other countries – Belgium is said to have 82 deaths per 100,000 people - the death toll in the US from coronovirus surpasses that of the Korean War and the Vietnamese War. According to the BBC, US deaths from numerous wars are shown in the chart below. What the figures show is that there are more deaths in the US from coronavirus than 44 years of war.

•    Korean War (1950-1953): 36,500

•    Vietnam War (1961-1975): 58,000

•    Iraq War (2003-2011): 4,500

•    Afghanistan (2001-today): 2,000

•    Covid-19 (Feb 2020- today): 100,000

Most of these deaths  are people over 65, according to a policy paper produced by the UN in May 2020 entitled: "The Impact of COVID-19 on older persons."

It states: "The COVID-19 pandemic is causing untold fear and suffering for older people across the world. As of 26 April, the virus itself has already taken the lives of some 193,710 people, and fatality rates for those over 80 years of age is five times the global average. As the virus spreads rapidly to developing countries, likely overwhelming health and social protection systems, the mortality rate for older persons could climb even higher."

The paper also shows that while the median age of confirmed COVID-19 cases is 51, fatality rates for those over 80 years of age is five times the global average. Over 95% of fatalities due to COVID-19 in Europe have been of people 60 years or older. In the United States, 80% of deaths were among adults 65 and over. In China, approximately 80% of deaths occurred among adults aged 60 years or older. This reality poses a series of direct and indirect challenges for older persons.

This paper highlights four things that are important to seniors.

a.    Ensure that difficult health-care decisions affecting older people are guided by a commitment to dignity and the right to health.

b.    Fully integrate a focus on older persons into the socio-economic and humanitarian response to COVID-19.

c.    Strengthen social inclusion and solidarity during physical distancing. (People need more social interaction during times of isolation).

d.    Expand participation by older persons, share good practices and harness knowledge and data. (Older people need to be involved in making policy decisions).

Older people are sometimes used as a bargaining chip

The pandemic has changed the way seniors are viewed in many societies. Some societies, which have always tended to revere old age, such as Spain and Italy, still treat seniors with respect. It's not always true of some other countries.

Some governments have also used the older person as a bargaining chip. The UK is a good example. Not only have seniors been locked down- along with the rest of society- seniors are expected to remain locked down for longer, possibly until a vaccine is found. The government has taken the view that this will put them in a better light because they are caring for the most vulnerable. However, the true thinking, apart from the fact that older people are considered vulnerable, is likely to be that seniors are less likely to be working outside the home so they can stay indoors for a longer period of time. The government clearly thinks that the impact on mental health, especially in terms of self-isolation and loneliness, is less important than going outdoors and meeting family and friends.

In places like India, where most people have not received government handouts, the negative impact on seniors is likely to be severe, for much longer. Maybe people from poorer backgrounds will have to work for longer and those who are wealthier will continue to lead a similar life as before- even though they will not necessarily get a government hand out. (I have a friend, whose father was in the Indian army, who still receives a monthly pension. Obviously, this makes old age more bearable).

More money going into the economy

As a result of so much money being pumped into the economies by governments around the world, they may choose to shore up some of their debt repayments by reducing pensions. As a result, many older people will suffer from a reduction in the pension. In the UK, for example, this possibility is being discussed now.

This is in contrast to New Zealand, for example, whose Prime Minister has been praised for responding to the pandemic early and with a tough lockdown. Pensioners also continue to receive support (superannuation as it is known there) and the heating allowance has even been increased by NZD 40 a month for this winter season.

Research is also being carried out around the world to determine how best pensions should be structured and how much pensioners should receive. For example, should they be means tested? Should the pension be universal? What age should they receive the pension? In New Zealand, the age for receiving superannuation may be increased to 67, from 65, as it is in the US.

Seniors are fighting for their survival.

Photo: Carole Railton (copyright).


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