Tackling the Challenge of Rapid Ageing: Social Pensions in Asia

Welcome remarks Ursula Schaefer-Preuss, ADB Vice President, at the Regional Workshop on Social Protection for Older People in Asia, ADB Headquarters, Manila, Phililppines

Introduction

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning and thank you for joining us for this important workshop. I wish to extend an especially warm welcome to those participants who have come from overseas - from developing member countries, partner agencies, academe and research institutions, the private sector as well as civil society organizations - all of who bring valuable experience and unique perspectives to these discussions.

Ageing populations are today a global phenomenon with potentially significant consequences and repercussions. This is particularly the case in Asia and Pacific which, led by some of the world's fastest growing economies, has been utterly transformed over the past 30 years. Many countries in the region, however, lack effective social protection schemes, and paradoxically the region also still contains the greatest number of people living in absolute poverty. It is also home to an ever-increasing number of older people, that is to say persons aged 60 and over.

Older people already constitute a large proportion of the poor in Asia and Pacific. With their number expected to triple from 410 million in 2007 to around 1.3 billion by the middle of this century, there will be a greater number of older people in the region than persons of working age to support them.

Because older people are disproportionately affected by poverty, and because the majority of older people in developing countries have no regular incomes, many governments are now confronted by the specter of a substantial - and highly vulnerable -- segment of the population in urgent need of some form of social protection.

Women, a majority of who either work at home or are employed in the informal sector, often have no social protection whatsoever. They also tend to live considerably longer than men, continuing to work until advanced old age, looking after younger family members and undertaking household chores. With no-one to help them when they become widows, they are especially vulnerable.

All this presents a serious public policy challenge for Asian and Pacific governments.

The rapid economic growth of Asia and Pacific in recent decades has exacerbated, not diminished, the challenges and costs of ageing populations. People in the region today generally live considerably longer than their parents' generation. At the same time, in the face of rapid modernization and urbanization, traditional family and informal support systems for older people have weakened, or in some cases broken down altogether. Despite substantial economic progress in many countries, older people in Asia and Pacific today often find themselves impoverished, neglected and without access to essential medical or other social services.

Social protection schemes, historically weak and fragmented in this region have failed to keep pace with economic growth. Consequently old age has all too often become an expensive burden for individuals, families, and for society at large. At present, formal contributory pension arrangements cover only a relatively small number of people, mainly because very few poor people can afford to pay contributions. Such schemes are also difficult to design and administer for the informal sector in which so many of the poor are employed. Thus a potentially dangerous gap has appeared, and is rapidly widening, between ageing populations and their social needs.

Some countries in Asia have successfully introduced non contributory (or social) pension schemes to provide cash benefits to older citizens; but much has yet to be learned about the impact and possible replication of these schemes. Evidence from other regions of the world suggests that social pensions can effectively reduce the scope and severity of income poverty, and benefit individuals, families, and wider society. For example, social pensions can enable older people to gain access to health care, and enhance the status and social standing of older people among families and communities. Social pensions can help reduce child poverty as older people often share income with younger family members. Most critically, social pensions can promote gender equality.

ADB's current study is designed to determine whether, and if so to what extent, these benefits may apply to the countries in Asia and Pacific.

Our workshop here in Manila provides an ideal forum for the exchange of ideas, experiences, insights and data on social protection in general and social pensions in particular. The country studies to be presented here may well have important lessons and implications for other Asian and Pacific nations. This workshop is also driven by the inclusive growth agenda of ADB's Strategy 2020 as well as its Social Protection Strategy which identified the need to strengthen social protection systems. I am confident that your discussions over the next two days will contribute significantly to our understanding in this area.

I wish you all every success in this workshop, the outcomes of which will undoubtedly be of great interest and use to ADB, our partner agencies, and development workers everywhere.

I trust that this workshop will generate a lively discussion and a policy relevant lessons and bring us closer to determining how best to address the needs of older people.

Thank you.