Aging with pride and dignity
In an election year the votes of senior citizens are as previous as uncut diamonds. Hence, it would be prudent for the executive of the Dominica Council on Ageing (DCA) to seize the opportunity provided by an election campaign to promote the aim and objectives of the DCA to the incumbent Dominica Labour Party Government as well as the United Workers Party, the prospective government. But the DOC should be advised that the gap between the articulation of promises from politicians particularly at election time and implementation is extremely wide.
Additionally, although one should not look a gift horse in the mouth, senior citizens, whatever their economic status, must consider carefully before they accept concessions from any politician. For instance, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit will undoubtedly swear that the "EC$200 Cost-of-Living Top-up" that he offered to senior citizens in the 2014/2015 budget was not a pre-election gimmick. Nonetheless, even if the timing of the "top-up" makes it look suspiciously like a bribe (it will become effective in October, on the eve of the general election) senior citizens should consider that concession as an acknowledgement that the government is ultimately responsible for the care of the elderly. In the final analysis, elderly persons must vote for the group of men and women who has the best chance of giving their families a "complete top up", for the long term development of their children and grandchildren.
This is absolutely important because according to the report of Global AgeWatch Index 2013 "the best way to improve the lives of future generations of older people is by investing in health, education and employment for young people today". In other words if our government reduces levels of unemployment and poverty, the welfare of older persons will automatically improve.
But in addition to "top ups", our society must make greater efforts at ending the physical and emotional abuse of older persons; although the abuse of older persons is not only a Dominican affliction, it is a world-wide complaint. According to a report produced by the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) older persons complain about excessive abuse, usually by relatives who engage in often violent quarrels about properties and assets. Older persons are also neglected and do not feel that society and family members respect them. There are also stories of murders of older persons over allegations of witchcraft.
A few years ago in a speech delivered at the opening of Month of Older Persons, the President of Dominica made similar observations when he said that many see aging as "a repulsive process with horrid endings". Society, he added, responds in a way that implies a struggle against aging. Because of that attitude seniors are made to develop a sense of utter uselessness, as if they are burdens to their family and society.
According to Help Age International, older persons face a number of issues including chronic illness, limited access to health care and medication, poor housing, lack of economic security and livelihoods, social isolation, neglect and abuse. And the situation is getting worse; numbers of our senior citizens are increasing and Dominica grapples with a dying economy caused by poor economic planning and the impact of a struggling world economy.
Though statistics on the number of old persons who are below the poverty line in Dominica are not readily available, in developing countries generally older persons are among the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable because governments have not made adequate provision to take care of their old persons. Help Age estimates that worldwide more than 100 million older persons now live on less than US$1 a day.
Dominica's population is ageing because more and more persons are living longer lives. This is due to improvements in sanitation and health as well as to falling fertility rates. Worldwide there are 809 million older persons (i.e.11 % of the population) who are 60 years and over and that figure is expected to reach 1,375 million (16%) by the year 2030 and 2,031(or 22%) by 2050. In Dominica, the figure has been estimated at 13.5 percent of the population. We are not sure of Dominica's actual figures since the data from the last census has not been released.
Nevertheless, these numbers that we quoted earlier have caused people here and abroad to claim that the ageing population is a "time bomb" or an "age-quake" with potentially tsunami–like impact on the economy. For example, they fear that social security systems could collapse under the weight of carrying too many old persons. However, we are of the view that our country's alarmingly low production and productivity, as well as the hemorrhaging of our young work force to other countries through immigration are more serious threats to the sustainability of the Dominica Social Security system than the ageing population. The question therefore for Dominica's leaders is how to develop policies aimed at improving the economy so that the country can keep its older persons healthy, integrate them in society and enable them to improve the quality of their lives.
As we observe the Month of Older Persons in September under the theme "Ageing with Dignity: A Nation's Hope and Pride" we note that older persons and their representatives continue to call for greater access to health care and social services, income support and an end to abuse. Last year former president His Excellency Eliud Williams made similar observations on his address to mark the Month of the Elderly. He invited Dominicans to reflect on the many challenges that elderly people face and also on the ways society can contribute towards the well-being of older persons. These challenges continue in 2014.