Expert Warns Developing Countries on Costs of Western-style Social Security Systems, as Technical Meeting Enters Final Day

United Nations Population Fund
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William A. Ryan

The ICPD+5 review process

Expert Warns Developing Countries on Costs of Western-style Social Security Systems, as Technical Meeting Enters Final Day

BRUSSELS, 9 October 1998 -- It would be unwise for developing nations to forsake their traditional familial support systems for the elderly in favour of costly Western-type social security systems, Shigemi Kono of Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Japan, warned today. Asian models that combine family help and savings from elders' prime working years may provide a better way to enhance self-reliance, he suggested on the final day of the Technical Meeting on Population Ageing.

The four-day meeting, which will end later today, is part of "ICPD+5", the review of the achievements of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). It was organized by UNFPA in cooperation with the Population and Family Study Centre, a Flemish Scientific Institute in Brussels. Participants reviewed the experiences of developed countries on population to identify practices that can be adopted by their developing counterparts.

In his paper on social policy implications, Mr. Kono suggested that workers should buy homes as early as possible to improve their options and guarantee themselves some cash flow later in life. Governments and local authorities should help workers buy their homes by setting up adequate banking and loan systems in developing countries, including in the rural areas.

Furthermore, he stressed, old-age security schemes to alleviate poverty must also address gender inequality: in addition to their widespread lack of property and inheritance rights, most elderly poor women lack work experience and face discrimination. Greater efforts should be made, he said, to raise public awareness of the plight of older women and to extend measures to meet their basic needs and lift them from poverty.

"Education is perhaps the most important weapon with which the elderly or elderly-to-be would be able to prepare for and continue to be active and productive in the aged society of the 21st century," Mr. Kono concluded.

Speaking on how to adapt institutions to meet the needs of the elderly, Yap Mui Teng, a senior research fellow at Singapore's Institute of Policy Studies, said that her country will raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 next year and, probably, to 67 in the year 2003, to enable greater numbers of older workers to remain in the workforce.

Support for the elderly in Singapore, she said, reflects a "many helping hands" approach involving families, communities and the Government. Support by families and informal social networks is complemented by community-based services, including home help, rehabilitation centres and nursing facilities, provided by voluntary agencies. The Government comes in as a facilitator, bringing the various sectors together and creating enabling environments.

The proportion of people aged 65 and older is expected to rise in Singapore from 7 per cent to 18 per cent in the next three decades. The Government's, Ms. Yap reported, include providing tax exemptions of about $3,500 for each parent housed by a taxpayer, the enactment of a law giving the elderly the right to sue for support from capable children, and retraining programmes to upgrade the skills of middle-aged and older workers.

The current meeting is being held a week after this year's International Day of Older Persons, during which the United Nations declared 1999 the International Year of Older Persons. Ageing also is one of the main themes of UNFPA's flagship publication, The State of World Population 1998, entitled "The New Generations".

(For information purposes only. Not an official document.)

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