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We have to treasure the elderly – PM Gonsalves

We have to treasure the elderly – PM Gonsalves

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The elderly are the fastest growing demographic of the Vincentian population and special attention must be paid to them.

As he addressed ‘Pensioners Appreciation Day’ at the National Insurance Services (NIS) headquarters last Thursday, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said the elderly should be treasured.{{more}}

“We have to treasure the elderly as those who helped to build this country… and as experienced mature persons in our community to continue to provide guidance and love.”

The Prime Minister said that in 1970 (45 years ago) there were just about 6,000 persons who were 60 years of age and older, representing 6 per cent of the population. However, the 2012 census reports 13,811 persons 60 years and older, amounting to 12 and a half percent of the population.

He said the size of the population has more than doubled in less than 50 years and between 2001 and 2012, the elderly population, 60 years and over, has increased by one third.

“We are living longer and we have to make sure we have policies in place, not only that we live longer, that we live healthier and better,” Gonsalves said.

“It means we have to have a special safety net arrangement for you (the pensioners) to make sure that you are secure in your old age.”

Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance, disclosed that in 2001, the Government paid out $7.1 million to 3,091 pensioners, while in 2015, 6,367 persons receive an annual pay-out of $40.7 million.

He said that health, housing and security must be improved to make sure that the elderly are secure, not abused, and taken care of.

The Prime Minister noted that there are 110 persons at the Lewis Punnett home and he is aware that there are more who need to be taken care of. He, however, said he believes that it is better for the elderly to be taken care of in their own homes.

Gonsalves, also the minister responsible for social security, said at present, there are 232 persons on the Elderly Assistance Benefit Programme.

He said it costs $1 million a year to run the ‘Home Help for the Elderly’ programme and the vast majority of the home helpers are doing a good job. He added, however, that a programme has been started for the elderly who have physical or mental problems.

“We have to take steps to make sure that the programme for the NIS is sustainable and that the benefit is adequate,” Gonsalves stated.

“It used be $50 a week in 2001, it is now $70 a week, which represents 21 per cent of insurable wages.”

Gonsalves said since he came to office, he had increased the minimum pension four times — in 2002, July 2008, December 2008 and December 2012.

Also, persons on ‘public assistance’ now receive $225 a month, up from $50, which was the case when the ULP came to office. The Prime Minister also said that the last time there was an increase in public assistance was in January 2011 and he plans to increase it to $250 in 2016.

He said when this done, the NIS would then increase the minimum pension from $280 a month.

The Prime Minister also revealed that discussions are ongoing in relation to the construction of a third Golden Years Activity Centre in the Mesopotamia area or East St George.

He also stated that 41 per cent of elderly persons living in St Vincent and the Grenadines receive money from the NIS and 83 per cent of employed/self-employed workers contribute to the NIS, with 93 per cent of contributors having their wages fully covered by the NIS.

Gonsalves said the Government has a plan going to keep the NIS thriving.

“I already have it in the law. By 2028, gradually we moving the age of retirement from 60 up to 65.”

The average life span of Vincentians is 75 years, which he said is as a result of better medical attention, better public health, better housing.

“We all living longer.”(AS)

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