Covid-19: HelpAge highlights hard ground reality of impact on India’s elderly
Geetanjali Minhas | June 18, 2020 | Mumbai
“I used to work as a part-time maid, but since the lockdown began, my employers have told me there is no need to come. I have no children, no other source of income, how will I survive?”
-Mira Devi (name changed),72, Delhi.
“We are a family of vegetable vendors, my son worked as a labourer, but due to the lockdown there is no work and no source of income for daily wage earners. It is very difficult to survive and with scarcity of food and increasing prices, even buying basic ration is becoming difficult”
-Vallamani (name changed), 67, Hyderabad.
“I used to work as a schoolteacher. I have very little savings. I was dependent on private tuitions for survival. I can’t afford any rent, so I stay with my relatives, who verbally abuse me, I have to fend for myself. If you see me now, I have become a skeleton, as I eat very less in order to save food and other essential things. I feel very depressed and lonely, as there is no one to talk to and listen to me, that’s why I called your helpline, if you have time to talk with me.”
-Namita Mishra (name changed), 67, Bihar.
“I stay alone; my children are settled in the US. I need my medicines regularly but with the lockdown I am unable to go out being a senior citizen. What do I do?”
-Indira Aggarwal (name changed), 75, Indore.
These are just some of the elder voices from the ground. A well-known fact is that 90% of India’s elders belong to the unorganized sector, they have to continue to work in their later years in order to survive.
This became clear in a nationwide survey carried out by HelpAge India, “The Elder Story: Ground reality during COVID 19”, as 65% of India’s elders lost their livelihood during the Covid-19 lockdown. As many as 67% were in the age group of 60-69 years, a stark 28% in the old-old category (70–79 years) and 5% in the oldest-old age group (80+). Rural elderly were harder hit with, 61% of those affected being from rural areas, while 39% from urban areas.
Marking ‘World Elder Abuse Awareness Day’ earlier this week, HelpAge India released findings of its survey, delving into the impact and challenges faced by India’s elders during the Lockdown phase.
“The elderly are facing a triple struggle – along with high health risk, many are battling survival due to loss in income, and further coping with challenges of social isolation,” said Rohit Prasad, chief operating officer, HelpAge India. “Most elderly in India have to work to make ends meet, as there is no universal social security system. Most of them are unskilled, casual workers, mostly from the unorganized sector, who earn a meagre daily wage to survive. These people were hit hard by the lockdown. The elderly risk being forgotten and unsupported when they require help the most. There is a need for special and coordinated action plan for elderly by the government, supported by community and family.”
A book on ‘Ageing & Poverty in India’ authored by Mathew Cherian, CEO, HelpAge India, was also launched. It highlights the elder situation in India, provides first hand insights and brings onboard the vast on-ground experience and expertise of the author. “This book is not an armchair exposition, but born out of two decades of experience and understanding the plight of economically weaker older people in rural areas and urban areas,” said Cherian. “At the same time, fear and insecurity among them is becoming more acute in urban areas. The book is being written to share experiences with the hope to make life better in old age, averting an old age crisis and to provide better solutions for the future especially for those elderly who are economically deprived and who have become marginalized, unheard and unseen after having worked all their lives.”
Key findings of the survey
A disturbing 62% of elder respondents were suffering from chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, cancer and hypertension. As many as 42% elders reported worsening of health condition during the lockdown. Of these, 64% elders were from the rural areas as compared to 36% from urban areas.
“The ongoing lockdown has become a major cause of worry for the elderly. Mandatory social distancing has its own challenges for the elders, many of whom are already struggling with loneliness, restricted mobility and lack of financial security,” said Prakash N. Borgaonkar, head –Maharashtra & Goa, HelpAge India. “Most of them are facing difficulty in accessing essential goods and services like food, groceries, medicine, access to domestic help/household maid, caregiver due to the lockdown. The pandemic has brought about fearand ambiguity, especially among older adults. It is important to not only pay attention to the elder’s physical wellbeing but also their emotional wellbeing. They are the heritage of our culture.”
Due to the lockdown, 78% elders faced challenges accessing essential goods and services nationally. Amongst the total rural respondents, 84% elders faced difficulty in accessing essential good & services and 71% amongst the total urban elderly. The top 3 essential goods &services elders had difficulty in accessing during the lockdown, were in clusters of the following common responses: Access to Food, Groceries & Medicines, followed by Access to Domestic Help/ Household Maid and the third being Access to Banking / ATM services.
As many as 61% respondents felt confined & socially isolated in their homes during the lockdown. Here the rural-urban distribution was equal, with 50% elders being from rural areas and 50% from urban areas. Interesting to note, was that 62% of those who felt confined were the Young Old between 60-69 years, where the feeling of frustration & confinement might have been higher, as this section of the aged are more able bodied and active, as compared to the Old Old, those between 70-79 years (31%) and Oldest Old, those above 80 years (7%).
On an awareness level, it was interesting to note that 91% of elders were aware of the signs and symptoms of Covid-19. As to the source of how this awareness was generated, 52% elders attributed it to Family & Relatives. A point that must be noted here, is that most elders are not digitally literate, so it would be safe to assume that access to digital & online media would have been limited.
The top three major Fears elders had during the lockdown, were clustered in common responses - 38 % had the Fear of getting infected by Covid-19, Fear of its spread through Socializing & Loss of Income, 34% feared Economic loss, fear of Starvation & No Work, and 12% had fear of Travelling, fear of Community Spread and their Low Immunity levels.
The elders had were very clear on their needs and had some clear suggestions for the government: more than 60% elder respondents mentioned Pension as their top need, while 50% wanted Medicines & Healthcare needs to be addressed.
The HelpAge India team on the ground and the Elder Helpline (1800-180-1253) team have been reaching out to disadvantaged and vulnerable elders, the homeless and destitute, those living in urban slums and villages. In both rural and urban India, HelpAge has been providing them with the much needed rations, meals for survival, medicines, masks, hand wash, sanitizers and counselling anxiety ridden elders through the helpline along with provided them much needed essentialsitems they were unable to access. The need on ground is immense and the elderly the hardest hit. HelpAge has reached out to over 6 lakh elders across the country and provided them relief and support across 125 districts in 25 states.
Highlights of the survey
The Elder Story: Ground Reality during Covid 19
Impact & Challenges: A HelpAge India report (June 2020)
• Sample Size: 5,099 elder respondents (Urban: 2639, Rural: 2460).
• Age Groups: 60-69 years (Young Old), 70-79 years (Old Old) and 80 years & above (Oldest Old).
• Gender: 57% Males and 43% Females.
• 91% of the respondents were aware of the signs and symptoms of Covid-19, while 9% were unaware.
• The hard reality that most elderly in India still have to work in order to survive, is brought out by the fact that 65% elder respondents stated that Covid-19 lockdown impacted their livelihood, and they had no Work or faced a drastic loss in their wages. Of these, 60% were from rural areas, while 40% was from urban areas.
• Of those elders whose livelihoods had been impacted, 67% were in the age group of 60-69 years, a stark 28% in the old-old category (70 – 79 years) and 5% in the oldest-old age group (80 plus). That’s more than 30% of elders over the age of 70 years whose livelihoods were impacted.
• 71% elder respondents stated that the livelihood of the breadwinner of their family was impacted (loss of work /wages) by the lockdown. Of these, 61% were from the rural areas, while 39% were from urban areas.
• A disturbing 62% of the elder respondents reported suffering from chronic diseases such as asthma, hypertension, diabetes, cancer etc. Of these, 53% were from rural, and 47% from urban areas.
• 42% elders reported worsening of health condition during the lockdown. Of these, 64% respondents were from the rural areas as compared to 36% from urban areas. 61% were young-old, 31% old-old and 8% oldest old.
• 78% elders faced difficulty in accessing essential goods and services due to the lockdown nationally. Amongst the total rural respondents, 84% elders faced difficulty in accessing essential good & services and amongst the total urban elderly it was 71%.
• The top 3 essential goods & services elders had difficulty in accessing during the lockdown, were in clusters of the following common responses: Access to Food, Groceries & Medicines, followed by Access to Domestic Help/ Household Maid and the third being Access to Banking / ATM services.
• 61% respondents felt confined & socially isolated in their homes during the lockdown. Here the rural-urban distribution was equal. Interesting to note, was that 62% of those who felt confined were the Young Old between 60-69 years, where the feeling of frustration & confinement might have been higher, as this section of the aged are more able bodied and active, as compared to the Old Old, those between 70-79 years (31%) and Oldest Old, those above 80 years (7%).
• The top 3 major Fears elders had during the lockdown were in a cluster of 3 categories: 38 % had the Fear of getting infected by Covid 19, Fear of its spread through Socializing & Loss of Income, 34% feared Economic loss, fear of Starvation & No Work, and 12% had fear of Travelling, fear of Community Spread and their Low Immunity levels.
• In major Suggestions for the Government, more than 60% elder respondents mentioned Social Pension as their top need, while 50% wanted Medicines & Healthcare needs to be addressed.
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