Challenges faced by older people include: lack of access to regular income, work and health care; declining physical and mental capacities; and dependency within the household (Sepulveda, 2010). Without income or work, older people tend to depend on others for their survival. They also usually have greater need for health-care services and for domestic help. Women are likely to live longer than men, but becoming a widow may increase vulnerabilities if they have no land rights, assets, or mobility to seek employment (ibid.).
Many older people in lower-income countries do not have access to social protection. Older people’s interaction with social protection is usually in the form of an old-age pension, a type of cash transfer. Contributory pensions are limited as they rely on formal employment, and coverage rates are low in low- and middle-income countries (Holzmann et al., 2009). This also has a gender dimension as fewer women than men are in the formal sector (ibid.). However, ‘significant progress has been made in extending pension system coverage’, with ‘a noticeable trend in developing countries… [of] the proliferation of non-contributory pensions, including universal social pensions’ (ILO, 2017: 75). ‘Today almost all Latin American countries have [social pensions], whereas Sub-Saharan Africa economies have some of the largest old-age social pensions systems in terms of the share of the elderly population covered’ (World Bank, 2018: 73). Social pensions therefore address a gap for poor people, particularly women, and are politically popular (ADB, 2012). Older people, usually women, may also care for grandchildren, and may receive child benefits for them. There is a strong trend for this household role in sub-Saharan Africa, with less evidence from other regions.
International Labour Office Social Protection Department (2018). Social protection for older persons: Policy trends and statistics 2017–19 (Social Protection Policy Paper 17). Geneva: ILO.
This policy paper analyses global trends and recent policies on pensions for older people. It looks at how pension coverage has been extended in many low- and middle-income countries, through a mix of contributory and non-contributory schemes.
Sepulveda, M. (2010). The question of human rights and extreme poverty. Report of the independent expert to the United Nations General Assembly, Human Rights Council, Fourteenth Session on 31 March 2010.
This UN report examines whether social pensions help realise the right to social security and an adequate standard of living. It highlights that large numbers of people work outside formal employment and traditional informal support systems for older people are changing under the pressure of increased longevity, widespread poverty, HIV/AIDS and migration. The report recommends that states recognise social pensions as critical elements for the progressive realisation of the right to social security for older people.
Holzmann, R., Robalino, D., & Takayama, N. (2009). The role of social pensions and other retirement income transfers: Closing the coverage gap. Washington, DC: World Bank.
This book has four specific objectives: (a) to discuss the role of retirement income transfers in the context of a strategy for expanding old-age income security and preventing poverty among the elderly; (b) to take stock of international experience with design and implementation; (c) to identify key policy issues that need to receive attention during the design and implementation phases; and (d) to offer some preliminary policy recommendations and propose next steps.
HelpAge International. (2017). Cash transfers and older people’s access to healthcare: A multi-country study in Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. London: HelpAge International.
HelpAge International. (2016). Work, family and social protection: Old age income security in Bangladesh, Nepal, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Chiang Mai: HelpAge International, East Asia/Pacific Regional Office.
Azra, C. (2015). The gender dimensions of pension systems: Policies and constraints for the protection of older women (Discussion Paper 1). New York: UN Women.
ADB. (2012). Social protection for older persons: Social pensions in Asia. Manila: Asian Development Bank.
Video: ‘Social protection for older people in Africa’. A series of linked videos. (2010). HelpAge International.