Low levels of awareness about government social security schemes among the country’s vast majority of the ageing populace are hindering them from reaping the benefits and slowing the pace of the welfare measures from reaching their actual objectives, a study by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has shown. The survey showed that while senior citizens comprised 10.5 per cent of India’s population, their awareness of social schemes is abysmally low. This has hindered the reach of these benefits to the country’s wider ageing population, the study said.
UNFPA estimates that the country’s ageing people will reach 22.7 crore or 14.9 per cent of the total population by 2036, underscoring the urgency for ensuring universal access to social security benefits for older people. The survey revealed many key facts regarding ageing people in India and their levels of awareness of social security schemes meant for them. Those aged 60 will comprise 20.8 per cent of the total population by 2050 from 10.5 per cent in 2022. The report says that higher life expectancy also contributes to their growing numbers, so the government should pay more attention and ensure the benefits reach all.
India has various contributory and non-contributory social security schemes for older adults. For instance, non-contributory schemes include the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme (IGNOAPS), the Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme (IGNWPS), and the Annapurna Scheme. The India Ageing Report, 2023, ‘Caring for our elders–Institutional responses’, released last week, further showed that 55 and 44 per cent of old people are aware of IGNOAPS and IGNWPS, respectively, and only 12 per cent know about the Annapurna scheme.
Those in the rural areas are more aware of IGNOAPS at 57.6 per cent compared to 48.6 per cent in urban areas. Similarly, 45 per cent in rural and 42 per cent in urban areas are aware of IGNWPS. On the other hand, only 13 and 12 per cent in urban and rural areas, respectively, are aware of the Annapurna scheme. Women’s higher life expectancy suggests widowhood, but their awareness of the widow pension scheme is only at 47 per cent. Regarding the Annapurna scheme, only 8 per cent of older females and 16 per cent of older males know about it.
Reasons for Hindering Access to Social Security Benefits
Although there is a multitude of reasons for the low penetration of social security schemes, three reasons stand out:
Lack of Awareness: Lack of awareness is the main obstacle for seniors to avail of the benefits. Around 52.9 per cent are unaware of health insurance, a key benefit for older people. Although the awareness drive continues, the situation on the ground could be more satisfactory.
Trouble In Accessing Benefits: Sometimes, even if there is awareness of the schemes, other issues prevent them from availing of the benefits. These could be lengthy administrative procedures, extensive documentation, requirement of physical presence, etc. Besides, a lack of technical understanding prevents those in need from accessing the benefits. Ineffective or lack of communication skills of the staff implementing the scheme is also one of the reasons hindering access to these benefits, the report said. At times, incomplete or wrong documentation and the complex process also discourage them from coming forward to receive these benefits even if they are eligible.
Utilisation of Schemes: According to the report, low awareness is the main issue, but utilisation of the benefits is another major problem. Even though some people are aware and have access to the benefits, the utilisation of the schemes is low. The findings suggest that there is still much to be done so that the benefits reach the entire ageing population.