Seniors' struggle to cope without pension or savings

By Kim Ngan   August 15, 2022 | 05:15 pm PT
Seniors' struggle to cope without pension or savings
An old woman collects scraps to sell in Hanoi, February 2018. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh
Thu and her husband struggle to cover their living expenses, and she feels embarrassed about borrowing money from her son-in-law.

Thu, 61, is a housewife and completely dependent on her husband. He is 66 and works as a construction worker. They struggle to make ends meet and their healthcare expenses take up much of their income.

Thu says: "My daughter has no problem giving us money, but her husband does not seem too pleased to support us. So I don't feel happy taking it. Sometimes my son-in-law asks my daughter behind our back why we keep borrowing money from them."

In order not to bother their daughter and her family, the old couple ask other people in their circle. But who can lend them money constantly?

Growing up during the war, Thu used to be a farmer and then ran a small business. Neither she nor her husband has pensions, and their savings are not enough for retirement.

"When I was in my 30s, I saved hundreds of millions of dong. But suddenly I became sick and my situation became serious. I spent most of my savings at that time. Now I have less than 20 million left. Our life is so unstable now."

Nine million seniors in Vietnam are in the same situation, struggling to make ends meet.

Back in the 1990s the main occupation was farming, leaving 73% of people over 60 years old today without pensions.

According to a report by the General Office For Population And Family Planning, more than 65% of seniors living in rural areas are farmers without a steady income. When they were young their incomes had been enough to take care of themselves and their children, but they could not set aside enough for retirement. Many therefore face financial difficulties now.

Nguyen, 63, says 95% of her generation in her hometown were farmers, and her own income was only enough to raise her three children and not save.

So, at this age, she still has to do four or five different jobs to pay for the treatment of her osteoarthritis.

For years she could earn enough money for her basic needs and save VND 3-5 million a year though occasionally she had to sell lottery tickets on the streets. She does not have social and health insurance.

"If you want to buy insurance, you need to have more than VND 10 million a year in savings," she says.

Because of her illness, she is not capable of doing certain jobs, and collects scraps to sell, babysits and works in people’s houses to earn money.

"In the past I spent only half of my income, but now I have to pay more for my medicines and so have nothing left."

According to the General Office For Population And Family Planning, the number of people aged over 60 is increasing rapidly. By 2019 the number had reached 11.4 million, and the agency forecasts this number will increase to 18 million by 2030, accounting for 17.5% of the population.

Vietnam’s population is aging more quickly than in developed countries, and the government does not have much time to prepare to take care of its aging population.

It is forecast that by 2050 the old age dependency ratio will be 43%, meaning people of working age will bear a greater burden in the future.

Besides, there are now 4.3 million elderly people living alone.

Nhung, a vendor in Ho Chi Minh City, is one such, and thus, at nearly 70, she still worries about her daily income.

She says: "When I was young people hired me to assist with their business, and I earned around VND 200,000 a day. Now I sell street food, but my daily income is the same. Sometimes I do not earn enough for my basic needs that day, so I have to borrow money to cover living expenses."

She does not have a pension and is widowed, and has no one to look for support.

According to the United Nations Population Fund, 76% of the elderly population in Vietnam are without a pension due to the low participation rate in the social insurance program.

It is expected that by 2030 some 12 million retired people will not have a pension.

Experts say young workers should prepare for their retirement, but it is also necessary to amend the social insurance system, strengthen the safety net and ensure the social security system is responsive to risks.

Besides, both the government and private sector should enable the elderly to participate in the workforce since many are healthy, experienced and eager to make a living, they say.

It is an urgent long-term requirement that needs to be done even as the country ages.

The rate of seniors who are economically active is constantly increasing, and has now reached 40%, but is still lower than in many other countries in Asia.

The experts want the government to establish employment exchanges for older people, encourage private enterprises to employ them, raise the retirement age, help them get training and jobs, and improve working conditions to suit them.

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