Call made for more jobs, social services for seniors

BY KIMONE THOMPSON
Associate editor — Features
thompsonk@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

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WITH more people living longer and in comparatively better health than in previous decades, ageing specialists here are pushing for more employment opportunities and social services to be made available to senior citizens.

According to figures from Mona Ageing and Wellness Centre at the University of the West Indies, there are about 320,000 people over age 60 in the island — roughly 12 per cent of the population. There are also 1,200 centenarians, based on its count.

But those numbers are climbing, and in the context of a simultaneous decrease in the 20-60 age group, they hold significant implications for the labour force, according to head of the centre Professor Denise Eldemire-Shearer.

“It's not only how many are in this age group, it's also its proportion to the population — because we're on our way to being one in four being over 60. Much of our work has been trying to convince our policymakers that not only do we have 320,000 on the way to 400,000, even in my lifetime — because it should be by 2025 — it's going to be 25 per cent.

“It has implications for workforce policy, health care, and more importantly, when we did the study in 1989, 78 per cent (of older persons) were physically well; it's now 92 per cent. So you're talking about a subset of the population that needs services — not medical services; social services. It needs the gyms, it needs the music, it needs the clothing...and it needs economic opportunities,” she said.

How the country uses the data and plans for the projected changes will make the difference in future workforce staffing and productivity levels, among other things.

“Barbados (for example), is below replacement and is already experiencing workforce problems. We (Jamaica) are not quite there yet, but they definitely have gaps in the 20-60 age group because that population is shrinking so much,” Prof Eldemire-Shearer said.

She argued that “old” is not a synonym for “dowdy” or “dead”, and stressed that services ought to be tailored to suit discerning styles and preferences, even while bearing in mind common afflictions associated with ageing, such as arthritis.

On the subject of economic opportunities, Eldemire-Shearer, who is also patron of the National Council for Senior Citizens — the Government's advisory body on the elderly — was asked if the normal retiring age should be extended to allow older people to work longer. She replied in the negative. Neither does she support gender-based differences in the retirement age.

“No, and this is based on research. Many older people want the retirement because they want the lump sum to take care of the mortgage and other things. They, however, want the opportunity for contract employment. They want to retire formally, but want to be able to come back; so they want the terms, not the age of retirement, to change,” she said.

The Pensions (Public Service) Act, 2017 is moving the normal retiring age for people in the civil service from 60-65 over a five-year period. Implementation started in April 2018.

The National Insurance Scheme pension, however, is not due until age 65. It was previously age 60 for women, and 65 for men.

“Retirement age should be equal, but the critical factor in the retirement discussion is opportunities for employment. Once you retire you have 20 to 25 years of life, and I've just told you that 20 years of that is going to be well — physically and mentally.”

Professor Eldemire-Shearer was speaking to the Jamaica Observer in the run-up to UWI Mona Research Days, scheduled for today to Friday under the theme 'UWI Mona: Driving research for social and economic development'. She is director of Graduate Studies and Research, and chairs the research days planning committee.


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