Elderly call for social pensions

More than 200 older people from different Older People’s Associations (OPA) representing more than 30,000 older people in 25 capital/provinces across Cambodia is gathering for a two days event under the theme “Social Pensions for Older People in Cambodia” in Battambang province. This is the Second National Forum on Older People.

HelpAge Cambodia, Oxfam and UNDP, in partnership with the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation are organizing the 2nd National Forum on Older People to understand the opportunities, challenges and practical needs of the older people during and after the Covid 19 pandemic and raise awareness on the national policy framework and programs to support the older people and mobilizing inputs for policy dialogue on the development of social pension and social protection for older people in Cambodia.

Participants include relevant ministries, development partners, civil society organizations, and representatives of older people across the 25 capitals and provinces. Eminent guest speakers representing key ministries such as the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, the Ministry of Planning, the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and the General Secretariat of the National Council for Social Protection shared and presented the progress of the National Social Protection Policies and Programs for older people in Cambodia.

On February 4, 2021, 150 elderly people of the Older People’s Association in the 25 capital and provinces representing nearly 30,000 older people had gathered at the 1st National Forum on Older People to explore and discuss topics related to “Social Protection and the Older People’s Association in Cambodia” in Phnom Penh. Five priorities have been identified in which allowance support to sustain the livelihood of the older people is the utmost priority that the association called on the Royal Government.

Ms. Mey Eng, 68 years old, from Nom Kreap Village, Sangkat Prek Preah Sdach, Battambang City, Battambang province said, “Getting old, I want to receive state subsidy in terms of allowance support for me to buy medicine when getting sick.”

Mr. Thiv Sam Ath, 75 years old, from Prey Kuy village, Prey Kuy commune, Kampong Svay district, Kampong Thom province said, “I lost job and income when I get old, and I need subsidy from the government to cover my daily expense such as food and medicine.”

Mr. Khlok Hem, 68 years old, from Prey Veng village, Samrong Yae commune, Puok district, Siem Reap province, said, “I need my allowance the most in this old age because I have to spend a lot on health care, especially medicine.”

Ms. Sek Sovann, 62 years old, from PorPrork Cheung Village, Sangkat Kakap 1, Khan Por Sen Chey, Phnom Penh “I cannot generate income when I get old; that is why I need allowance support to buy food and related daily expenses.”

Ms. Ou Vanda, 67 years old, President of the Cambodia Aging Network, which represents more than 20,000 members, also stressed that social benefits for the elderly are essential for them to make a living and not fall back into poverty and vulnerability.

Ms. Phean Sophoan, Oxfam National Director said, “The elderly are an important human resource for family and society. Elderly still face issues of discrimination, employment, decision-making in the family related to health, and being lonely – the finding report of context analysis on the most marginalize and discriminated groups. At the same time, migration has shifted the family’s economic and care burden on the elderly people - they are forced to earn income and care for grandchildren and other family members, losing opportunities to participate in social activities and selfcare. In contrast, social protection schemes have not yet fully covered the elderly people. Oxfam has collaborated and supported directly with HelpAge Cambodia in empowering and raising collective voice of the elderly people to better access social protection schemes, access to decent employment, and full protection, especially in times of crisis.”

Mr. Tum Vira, Executive Director of HelpAge Cambodia, emphasizes that despite the great efforts made by the government to address the plight of vulnerable people, including the elderly, as indicated in policies, legal instruments, and social assistance programs, older people still experience many problems and needs that remain unresolved. The needs and issues of the older people were identified in the 1st National Forum on Older People in early February 2021 and proposed for the Royal Government interventions in which “Cash support program is the first and foremost priority for the older people, of any amount or the age group.” If we compare with the countries in Southeast Asia, including Timor-Leste, only Cambodia and Laos do not have social pension programs or cash support programs for the elderly in general. I hope that the results of today's forum can provide additional evidence and become a necessary input for the Royal Government to respond and take further consideration with the preparation of the “Family Package Program”.

According to a recent research report on “Income of the Elderly and Social Protection in Cambodia during and after the Covid-19 pandemic,” conducted by the National Institute of Social Affairs in early 2021, approximately 55% of the elderly participated in the study indicated that their incomes were affected and did not meet their basic living needs even though 45% of them have received government’s support through the cash transfer program during the Covid 19 pandemic. The report also emphasizes that most older people need old-age benefits to sustain their livelihoods, especially during and after crises such as the Covid 19 pandemic.

In addition to this report, the National Institute of Social Affairs also conducted a study on “The Needs and Challenges of Older People in Cambodia” at the end of 2018 in five provinces of the Kingdom of Cambodia. The report confirms that family members or children’s support is a significant source of income for the elderly (up to 71%), and they have very few chances to generate income. The report also points out that most older people fall into poverty as they get older due to the distribution or donation of their properties to the children. Older women, in particular, are likely to depend on family members more than men, as most involve unpaid work, such as housework, caring for grandchildren, etc.

The recommendations in the two study reports urge the Royal Government to consider developing cash support programs for older people to improve their well-being and keep them from falling back into poverty or vulnerability.