Saturday, 7 February 2009

Advocates call for social pension scheme in developing countries


Published: 6/02/2009

Social pensions should be introduced in developing countries for better financial and social security, say advocates.

"A social pensions system can act as a powerful tool for the government to pull people out of poverty, because it is cost-effective and realistic,'' said Eduardo Klien, Regional Representative of HelpAge International, an NGO group advocating universal social pensions worldwide.

More than 70 countries across the world provide social pension, including at least 50 low and middle income countries. Their experience shows social pension is affordable and practical, Mr Klien said.

The term social pension is defined as "non-contributory cash income usually given to old people by the government.''

Asean countries, except Cambodia, offer social insurance for public sector employees but that is as far as it goes. The general public does not enjoy similar coverage.

Despite an existence of a large number of workers outside the mainstream, or registered workforce, there is no established scheme for their social protection, according to Fifi Anggrani Arif, Asean Secretariat's technical officer for its development unit.

Asean, with the exception of Brunei, does not have universal social assistance coverage, financed from tax revenues, and supplemented by various charities or aid organisations.

In most Asean countries, social protection is scattered around state agencies.

In Thailand, the non-mainstream workforce does not enjoy any social protection. Statistics show that one-fourth of the senior citizens are poor and more than 10% in this segment live below the poverty line.

The poor are vulnerable and neglected, said Viennarat Chuangwiwat of the United Nations Population Fund.

Old people had paid taxes in one form or another all their lives. They made significant contributions to society, so they too deserve something in return, said Ms Viennarat.

The concept of social protection implies an investment in people in order to prevent and reduce poverty. It also builds up a country through promotion of quality workforce and uplift living standards. This in the end will forge national peace and security.

If properly designed and executed, the basic or universal pension will be affordable in Thailand, she noted.

"The Thai government is aware of the rise of the ageing population. In fact, it is one of the first Asean countries to take note of the problem and established the National Committee for the Elderly soon after the Vienna Assembly on Ageing (1982),'' she said.

Thailand has also the 20-year national long-term plan of action for the elderly to address various issues including income and employment for the aged. The guarantee of income security for senior citizens was also incorporated in the constitution.

However, the social security system is sometimes inaccessible to the elderly and impeded by red tape and people's lack of understanding of how it works.

But experts agree the system can be improved to make the golden years truly meaningful.


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