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KINGSTON — "Seniors using their resourcefulness for survival” is the theme of this year's Senior Citizens' Week (September 25 – October 1), and invites a serious look beyond the platitudes associated with the so-called designated special days.

It speaks to the most basic element of our existence, survival and the authorities are taking notice.

The latest official data from the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) indicates that Jamaica’s population is ageing, with some 280,000 Jamaicans now at the age of 60 years and over. Further, the fastest growing segment of the country’s population is the age cohort of 65 years and over. Equally ominous, the “young population (0-14 years) has fallen below 30 percent."

Political administrations, over time, have expressed appreciation of the implications of Jamaica’s ageing population, and have pledged to intensify efforts to address the plight of senior citizens and ensure their active participation in society, as they search for opportunities to be more resourceful in a dynamic and changing world. 

The National Policy for Senior Citizens was tabled in Parliament on March 12, 1997 and was described, at the time, as a “historic policy document (which) represents the commitment of the country to its senior citizens who make up more than eleven percent of the population."

The policy is grounded on this premise, as well as the projection that, by the year 2050, the number of senior citizens is expected to double.

The National Policy envisages a developmental approach for senior citizens, and stresses the importance of considering seniors in strategies for national development.

A summary of the principles which formed the basis for the Policy include, the recognition of individuality, which acknowledges that there is a great diversity among older persons and the variations increase with age. The “keystone of the policy” is to help older persons maintain “the maximum degree of independent living."

It emphasizes the need for older persons to participate in decisions affecting their lives, and that there should not be any discrimination in the availability of services.

Importantly, it also recognizes that older persons have special needs, based on role changes “more commonly found in the later years”, and that senior citizens should be able to live socially and economically productive lives.

A first in the region, the policy has attracted wide international attention, with a number of countries seeking Jamaica's assistance in shaping their own senior citizens policy.

A year after the tabling in Parliament of the National Policy for Senior Citizens, the Minister of State in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security responsible for senior citizens, Hon. Andrew Gallimore, announced the need for a revision, “as the number of seniors is expected to double from 10 per cent of the population at the time the policy was crafted, in 1997, to 20 per cent in the year 2020."

The Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) is playing a lead role in this process, and has examined the developmental impact of Jamaica’s ageing population.

Addressing a recent forum to launch Senior Citizen’s Week, 2011, Director (Actg.) Population and Health Unit, Social Policy Planning and Research Division, PIOJ, Toni-Shae Freckleton, observed that “the significant increase in the working age population can be seen as a window of opportunity or a demographic bonus, where the increased numbers in the working age population can boost economic growth, savings and investment.”

She explains that population ageing impacts many aspects of life, such as economic, financial and social including health.

She noted that the promulgation of an appropriate national policy for senior citizens focuses on issues of productivity as well. It supports mobilizing “the expertise and capabilities of the elderly for social and economic development, at both the national and community levels, and make provisions for lifelong learning.”

Ms. Freckleton referenced the PIOJ’s Vision 2030 document, which emphasizes that the health sector must be ready to respond to increased demand for care, due to the inevitable degenerative disorders that accompany old age. This includes, expansion of comprehensive health care services for the elderly, and involves the need for training in public health ageing gerontology and geriatrics.

With respect to social protection, Mrs. Freckleton pointed to further reform of the social protection system, especially social insurance. She stated that provisions are being examined to facilitate wider participation in pension schemes, especially among males, self-employed and persons in non-pensionable employment, and that an “aggressive investment of pension funds to ease the burden on current workers”, is being considered.

The new policy, she stated, may also speak to strengthening pension alternatives, both in the public and private sectors, the participation of more persons in the National Insurance Schemes and more options in the private sector.

Mrs. Freckleton stated that the issue of shelter was of critical importance.  She said that at issue is the need for “large scale improvements in state’s residential housing for the elderly across all parishes”, to include housing options, particularly low cost, for elderly persons capable of taking care of themselves. She added that private sector provisions of retirement housing, including ‘assisted living arrangements’, should also be encouraged.

 “We should also encourage and facilitate private sector involvement and investment in support of institutional care for the elderly, and promote greater integration of the elderly within communities,” she argued.

The unfolding policy also speaks to provision of appropriate infrastructure, to address the challenges of an aging population.

 “New social common areas should be appropriately designed and existing ones retrofitted. Service delivery options in government and commercial sectors should facilitate appropriate features, while full use of modern technologies that are age-friendly must be encouraged,” she said.

Minister of Labour and Social Security, Hon Pearnel Charles, reiterates that the Government is intensifying its efforts promote the welfare of senior citizens, and to ensure their active participation in society. 

In his message to the Senior Citizens, the Minister cited a recent United Nations Report which observed that the world’s population was projected to exceed seven billion on October 31, 2011 as it heads toward 10 billion or more by the end of the century.

 “It means that Governments are expected to provide increased social safety protection,” he acknowledged.

Commending the National Council for Senior Citizens for the role it continues to play to “actively involve our seniors, not just in cultural activities but in economic enterprises…,” the Minister pointed out that the Government continues to examine ways to increase its intervention, including  reforming  the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) to provide more meaningful benefits to seniors.

“We have lifted the NIS insurable wage ceiling to $1 million per annum. We have also moved to expand the Programme of Advancement through Health and Education (PATH) to assist seniors to safeguard their well-being and quality of life,” he stated.

Echoing the Minister’s sentiments, Mr. Gallimore added that senior citizens, having served and contributed to national development, are now well positioned to nurture and guide future generations.

 

By Allan Brooks, JIS Senior Reporter