Thu, Nov 02, 2017 - Page 8 News List

People cannot afford to grow old

By Wang Hsing-chi 王醒之

Saturday was the Double Ninth Festival — the ninth day of the ninth month in the lunar calendar — which in Taiwan is designated as senior citizens’ day. As usual, plenty of activities were arranged on the day itself and during this week to show respect for elderly people and demonstrate examples of “active aging.”

The new model of a healthy old person does things like getting a college degree at age 70, cycling around Taiwan at 80, line dancing at 90 and so on. You would think that such an active and interesting lifestyle is the one that older people should have, and that if some people have achieved it, others should be able to do it, too.

However, in the real world, most elderly people are not rich and not particularly healthy.

How many people really get through old age without getting cataracts, and how many have as good a memory as they did when they were young — good enough to get a college degree? How many are spared the pain of arthritic knees so they can ride a bicycle for days on end?

Few people in Taiwan are aware that Oct. 1 is the UN International Day of Older Persons. On this day every year, the UN announces a theme, such as revealing the ever-worsening difficulties that elderly people face around the world: old-age poverty, social exclusion and so on.

It sounds like a present-day version of the Japanese film The Ballad of Narayama, which tells the story of a village where old people are carried off to the mountains and abandoned.

Along with the “double aging” that results from a falling birth rate and growing numbers of very old people, the prospect of getting old has become a frightening social risk.

In many parts of the world in the 21st century, a public strategy of “active aging” is being adopted in response to the aging population structure. Most seriously, the notion of aging but not resting is, as suggested above, intentionally being extended into life values, where it becomes a value standard for self-censorship, defining what an older person should be like.

A close look at the changes that have taken place in the systems of various nations reveals that “active aging” is mostly used to support government policies such as raising the statutory retirement age, implementing flexible retirement systems, abolishing early retirement privileges and increasing older people’s labor force participation rate.

This makes it possible to gloss over the unemployment rate, prevent a fall in the total number of social insurance contribution payers and provide some relief from the phenomenon of old-age poverty.

It might even help governments evade a collision between social welfare and the state financial system.

However, it is ultimately impossible to conceal the reality that many people cannot afford to get old. It has been said that the wages that workers earn throughout their lives in the labor market and the taxes they pay to the state are still nowhere near enough to give them a stable life in old age, and this is as true of Taiwan as it is of other nations.

Aging is an unavoidable prospect, so everyone tries to save up for old age. However, most policies and research over the years have been tied to a concept of savings that focuses on extremely individualized aspects and monetary payments, such as pensions.

Meanwhile, alternative ideas about social, ecological and cultural care are thinly implemented.

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