Social Protection for the Elderly
By Isha Sharma and Urvashi Suraj
01/ Ageing India: A Case for a Social Safety Net for the Elderly
India is ageing. Nearly 12.5% of its population comprises elderly citizens, and the numbers are expected to surge significantly. Findings from the Longitudinal Ageing Study in India (LASI) 2020, conducted by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), the elderly population will more than double in the future, surging from 10.38 crore in 2011 to 23 crore in 2036. It may reach a staggering 31.9 crore by 2050.
The most universal needs of elderly citizens revolve around conquering financial and healthcare challenges. Escalating healthcare costs, lack of financial security in retirement, and reliance on families for daily needs, are some of the key challenges they face daily.
In rural India, as most young people migrate to larger cities in pursuit of education and employment opportunities, the elderly often find themselves in poverty and distress, either alone or with their spouses. Their most basic needs for physical and mental well-being remain unattended.
However, several government schemes are dedicated to their socio-economic welfare and protection, including one that offers a monthly pension of INR 600 to support them. Individuals aged 65 and older can apply for this monthly pension under the Shravan Bal Nuvrutti Vetan Yojana. However, many applicants are unable to get the benefits of this scheme despite meeting the eligibility criteria.
Before Nanhi Dhakal Salkar, 66, approached our team in Talasari, her application for this scheme had been rejected multiple times without any explanation. On top of it, the agents outside the Tehsil office were demanding excessive charges for application assistance.
When she arrived at our Yojana Kendra in Talasari (An information and communication technology access point run by a trained agent network, as a brick-and-mortar set-up where citizens can get information and application assistance on documents and schemes for both individuals and micro enterprises), a ‘Haqdarshak’ agent instantly identified the mistakes in her application and obtained missing documents like the age certificate and the BPL Ration Card. Within a week, her application was corrected, and valid documents were added and sent for further processing.
From our experience, we’ve identified two major challenges that applicants in this target group commonly face: frequent application rejections due to errors and gaps in the application and the unavailability of necessary documents. In Uttarakhand, only senior citizens with an annual income of less than INR 48,000 are eligible for the old-age pension scheme. However, most of those who meet this income criteria require more active bank accounts, which is one of the prerequisites for a successful application.
Nanhi Dhakal Salkar’s story is just one of the many that elderly individuals go through when trying to get help from government welfare programs. The complicated steps and the difficulty of making multiple trips can discourage many in this group from claiming the assistance they are entitled to. That’s why providing personal support is crucial for this vulnerable group.
02/ Relevant Schemes
National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP): It offers non-contributory pensions to the elderly, widowed women, and disabled persons, managed by the Ministry of Rural Development. The following sub-schemes fall under NSAP.
Pradhan Mantri Vaya Vandana Yojana (PMVVY): A pension scheme for senior citizens aged 60 and above, extended until 2023, where they are offered a monthly pension amount of INR 9,250.
Integrated Program for Older Persons (IPOP): Aims to enhance the quality of life for senior citizens by providing basic amenities like food, shelter, medical care, and entertainment opportunities.
National Family Benefit Scheme (NFBS): Provides one-time financial assistance to families of senior citizens living below the poverty line in case of the primary breadwinner’s death.
Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme (IGNWPS): Offers financial aid to widows living below the poverty line.
Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme (IGNOAPS): Provides financial assistance to individuals below the poverty line and aged 60 or above.
Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PM-JAY): Also known as Ayushman Bharat, it’s a government-sponsored health insurance scheme trying to provide financial protection to vulnerable sections, including senior citizens. It covers a wide range of medical treatments (approximately 1,929 procedures) and hospitalisation.
Rashtriya Vayoshree Yojana (RVY): This government welfare scheme aims to enhance the quality of life for senior citizens who are considered vulnerable and live below the poverty line. It achieves this by providing them with essential physical aids and assistive living devices.
To support the RVY, the government established the Senior Citizens’ Welfare Fund in 2016. This fund receives unclaimed amounts from various sources, including small savings accounts, PPF (Public Provident Fund), and EPF (Employee Provident Fund).
SAMPANN Project: Launched in 2018, it is a seamless online pension processing and payment system for Department of Telecommunications pensioners. It allows direct credit of pensions into the bank accounts of pensioners.
SACRED Portal for the Elderly: Developed by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, the portal is meant to help individuals over 60 years of age find jobs and work opportunities.
Elder Line: A toll-free number for the elderly, the helpline provides information, guidance, and emotional support, particularly on pension, medical, and legal issues, besides immediate assistance in cases of abuse. It gives all senior citizens, or their well-wishers, one platform nationwide to connect, share their concerns, and get information and guidance on daily problems.
03/ Haqdarshak’s Intervention and Impact
Over the last 7.5 years, HQ has facilitated over 402,000 applications for senior citizens, ensuring valid documents and diligent follow-ups with authorities on their behalf.
Indira Gandhi Old Age Pension Scheme —
Over 4,000 applications submitted, unlocking INR 139 million in benefits
Indira Gandhi Widow Pension Scheme —
Over 1,280 applications submitted, unlocking INR 109 million in benefits
While not directly aimed at senior citizens, contributory pension schemes like the Atal Pension Yojana and the PM Shram Yogi Mandhan Yojana play a crucial role in securing the well-being of vulnerable citizens in their old age. Over the years, HQ has made an active effort to educate citizens about the value of setting aside a portion of their monthly income to build financial security as they near their senior years.
Atal Pension Yojana —
Over 6,300 applications submitted, unlocking INR 333 million in benefits
Based on responses from 38 individuals who receive pensions, our survey findings from 2021 reveal a sombre reality.
Among the respondents, 25 reported their pension as the sole income source; a cause for concern. Even more troubling, 27 participants said the amount they receive each month is unable to cover their monthly expenses.
Our work with the elderly and above stated survey results highlight the need for many such social welfare protection and schemes for this vulnerable group. With India’s population ageing, providing financial and social inclusion opportunities for the elderly is critical.