As the number of senior citizens increase – from 10.38 Crore in 2011 to an estimated 17.3 Crore in 2026 and 30 Crore in 2050, the government is exploring ways to promote the idea of 'Silver Economy' by developing residential and infrastructure facilities of different grades for senior citizens through public-private partnership for a dignified and safe aging experience.
What is the silver economy?
• The Silver Economy is dedicated to the elderly in our societies. As its name suggests, the Silver Economy is not a “market” but a cross “economy”.
• The population ageing process is real and impacts every market and industry, such as: home accommodation, transport, food industry, insurance, robotics, health and e-health, communications, Internet, sports and leisure.
• The silver economy is analysed in the field of social gerontology not as existing economic system but as an instrument of ageing policy and the political idea of forming a potential, needs-oriented economic system for aging population.
Problems Faced by the Aged People in India
Lack of Infrastructure: With increasing longevity and debilitating chronic diseases, many elder citizens will need better access to physical infrastructure in the coming years. Lack of physical infrastructure is a major deterrent to providing comfort to the aged. Many elder citizens need better access to physical infrastructure, both in their own homes and in public spaces.
Healthcare Issues: Unattended chronic disease, unaffordable medicines and treatment and malnutrition are part of old age life in India as there is no system of affordable health care. Emphasis on geriatrics in the public health system is limited with few dedicated geriatric services. The other issues of the public health system are lack of infrastructure, limited manpower, poor quality of care and overcrowding of facilities due insufficient focus on elderly care.
Changing Family Structure: The traditional Indian society with an age-old joint family system has been instrumental in safeguarding the social and economic security of the elderly people. The traditional norms and values of Indian society also laid stress on showing respect and providing care for the elderly. However, with the emerging prevalence of nuclear family set-ups in recent years, the elderly is likely to be exposed to emotional, physical and financial insecurity in the years to come.
Lack of Social Support: The elderly in India is much more vulnerable because of the less government spending on social security system. The elderly in urban area relies primarily on hired domestic help to meet their basic needs in an increasingly-chaotic and crowded city. Social isolation and loneliness have increased. Insurance cover that is elderly sensitive is virtually non- existent in India. In addition, the pre-existing illnesses are usually not covered making insurance policies unviable for the elders. Pension and social security is also restricted to those who have worked in the public sector or the organized sector of industry.
Social Inequality: Elderly are a heterogeneous section with an urban and rural divide. They are less vulnerable in rural areas as compared to their urban counterparts, due to the still holding values of the joint family system. All the elderly are not seen in the same view as the needs and problems of elderly are rejected to a vast extent as government classifies these people based on caste and other socio-cultural dimensions.
Economic Dependency: The elders living with their families are largely contingent on the economic capacity of the family unit for their economic security and well-being. Elderly often do not have financial protection such as sufficient pension and other form of social security in India. The single most pressing challenge to the welfare of older person is poverty, which is a multiplier of risk for abuse. Also due to their financial dependence, elderly persons though are most vulnerable to infections have low priority for own health. Migration of younger generation, lack of proper care in the family, insufficient housing, economic hardship and break-up of joint family have made the old age homes seem more relevant even in the Indian context.
Shifting demographic trends demand policy reforms and cultural change
The demographic changes in the country call for appropriate economic and social innovation underpinned by adequate policy reform and profound cultural transformation.
While the Draft National Policy for Senior Citizens 2020 has been brought out at the right time with strong recommendations to promote the silver economy, a lot more needs to be done to drive the silver economy and to cater to the diverse needs of the senior population.
We need innovative models of finance to drive the silver market and provide tailor-made services to seniors.
Silver Economy: A potential driver for India’s growth
The longevity of the economy is about leveraging a healthy population’s potential to drive demand while also extending the earning cycle beyond the traditional age bar of 60.
Being a consumption driven economy, India will benefit immensely from increased consumption of goods and services by the senior segment.
Keeping a vast population healthy, however, will be a major economic activity. There will be enormous opportunities for those investing in the silver economy such as social upkeep, health, recreation, and asset management. The new-age economy will also ensure a large supply of skilled and experienced workforce.
However, there is evidence to suggest that unlike in the West, due to existing socio-cultural norms; retirees in India tend to go into a shell, which further aggravates their health issues.
Given the job challenges in India, conventional reemployment format may not be a viable solution but there is still a need to tap into the vast talent pool of retirees. This will only happen if millions of retirees are encouraged to take up new responsibilities in the formal sector.
What need to be done?
The rising demands of senior care can be met only if there are enough businesses that offer specialised, senior-specific services. But for such services to evolve, government intervention is critical in the following areas:
Recognising Senior Care as a Sector: Senior Care needs to be recognised as a sector with appropriate regulations, policy support, tax structures, availability of subsidised financing, and appropriate governance mechanisms. This would attract greater investments and encourage private sector participation.
Tax incentives: Expenses on senior care solutions (like home care, care homes etc.) should be exempted of any taxes to enable faster penetration of such products and services. This will increase private sector participation and enhance the overall quality of service.
Providing access to low cost funding: Currently the senior living players find it difficult to raise funds for development of senior living communities. Developers either have to rely on advances from customers or infuse equity. Higher input costs lead to higher price for seniors. It therefore allows only a small segment to buy or lease senior communities. Lower financing costs would allow for more affordable senior living and senior care projects.
Preferred status for land allocation and payments: Availability of land at lower prices than market prices and the option of staggered payments at lower interest would also help in keeping the cost of living arrangements, especially in metros, at an affordable level. This will further help in removing entry barriers and bolster growth of the silver economy.
As India is poised to witness a surge in its senior population, policy support will be required to promote both the demand and supply of senior specific services to tap the economic potential of this segment. Governments, businesses, and individuals must work together to adapt policies and behaviours to ensure individual and national fiscal sustainability as the population starts ageing.
A critical step in this direction will be allowing people to work longer and helping them plan better for their retirements, while offering critical support to the senior care industry to provide necessary services at affordable rates. This will not only create a win-win model for the consumers and the industry but will also create a national ecosystem that manages the population ageing smoothly.