The fine wine of the workforce

Today (1 October) marks the International Day of Older Persons, and this year’s theme – “Digital Equity for All Ages”, has been declared with the aim of affirming the need for access and meaningful participation in the digital world by older persons. However, when it comes to the state of life of older persons in Sri Lanka and the growth of the elderly population, there are more basic, but extremely pressing issues, which need to be addressed more urgently.

According to a 2019 report issued by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) regarding Sri Lanka’s growing elderly population, they are aging more rapidly than most in other developing countries. The ADB forecasts that the number of older persons, i.e. those aged 65 years or more, will double by 2050, compared with 2015, and that a rapid rise is expected in the share of the population over 65 years in the total population, from 9.4% in 2015 to 21% by 2045 and to 35.6% by 2100.  

This situation is likely to exacerbate the existing lack of the elderly population’s contribution to the national economy, and thereby, increase dependency and poverty in old age. 

According to the ADB, the share of the working age population, i.e. those between 15 and 64 years, of the total population, has also started declining, and the absolute number of the working age population will also start dropping by 2030, and that in Sri Lanka, these changes are happening at a much earlier stage of development than in many other economies that are facing aging of the population.

Therefore, there is a pressing need to initiate a national-level discourse on the elderly population’s living conditions, poverty, dependency, income and old age income support and social security programmes, participation in the labour force, and health and long-term care for the elderly, and there is a need to formulate and implement without a delay, national, long-term policies.

However, what the aforementioned data says is that Sri Lanka needs to be prepared to support the elderly population in an effective manner while also creating an environment to allow them to be a part of the national economy when there is an opportunity, in order to ensure their wellbeing and the stability of the country’s economy. Formulating and implementing a proper policy to support the elderly population to put their expertise and experience to good use as far as they are willing would not only ensure their health-related wellbeing, financial stability, and self-confidence, but will also ensure that what they have learnt is passed onto the next generation. 

Marking this day, Sri Lanka acknowledged the necessity and seriousness of creating a safer environment for the elderly population, both socially and economically.

Primary Healthcare, Epidemics, and Covid-19 Disease Control State Minister Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle, in a statement issued in this regard, stated that the most important challenge facing the citizens at the moment is to create a society that meets the needs of the elderly population and their rights, and that accountability as a society can be identified as the best solution to achieve that goal. Implementation of the National Elderly Health Policy, the enforcement of laws governing the elderly, securing cyber security and ethics for adults in the digital world, accountability for the elders’ rights as a society, and encouraging a programme to preserve the elders in the family, were her recommendations.

As we go forward as a country, let us not give up on those who created the present we live in, and instead, help them live an independent and productive life.