Camilla Williamson is Public Affairs Adviser at Age UK and is currently doing a three month secondment with HelpAge International at their East Asia Pacific Regional evelopment Centre in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Camilla is working on ageing policy in the region and strategies for communicating the work the regional team are doing with people in later life to governments.
A number of people’s initial response to the topic of ageing in Asia Pacific might be to assume that as a result of wide-spread poverty and health challenges in the region, population ageing is less of an issue here than it is in, say, Europe. But a glance at some global and regional stats on changing demographics will quickly give you an appreciation of the challenges countries here are facing and why the ageing population debate is especially pertinent to them.
Many of you will know the often repeated stat that the global population of over 60s is set to more than double by 2050, resulting in there being, for the first time, more people over 60 in the world than under 15. But did you also know that 80% of these older people will be in the developing world, with 1,236 million (62%) in Asia?
It is not just the enormity of the figure that presents a challenge: it’s also a question of pace. Whereas it took between 45 and 150 years to double the older population from 7 to 14 percent in most developed European countries, it is expected to take China, for example, a mere 26 years; Thailand 22, and Singapore a mere 19.
The key issue here is that unlike most Western countries, many East Asia Pacific nations are having to meet the needs of an ageing population before they become relatively wealthy and modernized. The (often extreme) poverty that many of these countries face means that while in Europe we have social protection and health care systems which are there to support us as we age, in these countries providing universal welfare of this sort, even solely for the elderly, is a challenge.
The task then for organisations like Age UK and our sister organisation, HelpAge International, cannot be to merely encourage governments in the region to provide more directly, but to encourage and support them to enable non government organisations, business, civil society and, most importantly, older people themselves to come together and develop collaborative systems for improving later life.
Key areas for work include strengthening the informal care system; tackling gender inequality – there are many more older women than men in the region, and they are in more severe poverty than their male counterparts; improving health and wellbeing; addressing the needs of older people in emergencies; and enabling economic, social and political participation for people in later life.
The Strategic Framework for Social Welfare and Development (2011-15) published this month by ASEAN (Association of South East Asia Network), with support from HelpAge in Asia, addresses a number of these issues and provides governments in the region with a strong framework for progress. HelpAge’s role in this will be to use our expertise to help develop and build capacity for the design, budget and delivery of innovative solutions.
Through older people’s associations all over the region, we are already delivering practical projects on the ground addressing the full range of older people’s needs. These include home care services, HIV/AIDS programmes, advocacy work, social protection training, and income-generating programmes. Through these projects, the network successfully helps thousands of older people and their communities. Our job for the future is to advance this work and show governments in the region, by example, how they can, individually and in partnerships, help many, many more.