Don’t forget the ageing population in Budget 2023

Malaysian Research Institute on Ageing (MyAgeing) director Prof. Ir. Dr. Siti Anom.

BY 2040, there will be over six million people aged 65 and above in the country. By 2050, it will represent 20% of the country’s population.

Malaysia is already viewed as an ageing society with 7% or three million of its population aged 65 and over in 2020.

This is according to World Bank estimates and the numbers will escalate.

It is not unique to Malaysia. By 2050, one-in-six people in the world will be over the age of 65.

However, the question is: Is Malaysia truly prepared for an ageing population or still grappling over it?

Several countries are ahead of us in terms of having a solid framework to address ageing related issues, so that the graying society is able to live comfortably as they too have played their part in national development.

Many countries have pension schemes, healthcare and elderly care facilities. They also offer part or full time jobs, life-long learning programmes, incentives and other forms of aid.

Malaysia has to address the needs of a graying society sooner rather than later and experts believe Budget 2023 is a critical window for a reform agenda.

“Can the budget usher in lasting, targeted policy changes for the better, or are we stuck in a welfare mode that looks at the aged population as a collective burden?’’ asked Malaysian Research Institute on Ageing (MyAgeing) director Prof Dr Siti Anom.

The budget must balance the needs of all generations. It must put in place measures that set the general direction for reforms with the most dominant areas being pension and health financing reforms.

Siti believes that the budget should commit to a reform agenda that addresses longevity risks in both public and private pensions, judicious use of contribution and benefit ceilings, as well as developing targeted approach mechanisms for redistribution (aid and subsidies).

There is a need to align Employment Provident Fund (EPF) withdrawal ages or annuitisation of EPF savings payouts.

“But often, we would rather entertain the idea of contributing to another pension plan than fixing weaknesses in existing schemes,’’ Siti said.

All these need to be examined with care as the rich can take care of themselves but the “State needs to ensure a basic minimum that can sustain the quality of later life,’’ she said.

Until there is more clarity on the private pension proposal still under study, steps are needed to help the aging population cope with rising costs amid the economic slowdown. This is where companies can play a role in hiring retirees.

“Make it illegal to discriminate against age as now employers can state they are hiring only 30 years and below,’’ Hire Seniors director Jasmin Amirul Ghani said.

There should be more policies to encourage employment and incentives for employers that hire seniors such as wage subsidies and those who redesign jobs to make it suitable for seniors, she added.

“A framework for key things needs to be done from a health perspective after 50 or 60. What we have is a framework for babies and children in terms of jabs, etc but not for older adults,’’ Jasmin said.

She also believes retirement facilities and more policies around helping seniors move from existing homes into independent living or assisted living facilities are needed.

Will the government put more emphasis on the graying society in Budget2023?’

Many are hopeful. Siti pointed out that not all promises of ageing with dignity have to come from the government.

“We all, as individuals, have some degree of control in our lives to make a difference, whether for ourselves or others,’’ Siti said.

Manulife Investment Management (M) Sdn Bhd licenced financial planner Rajen Devadason added that the “greatest risk for retirees worldwide is longevity risk: running out of cash before we run out of breath.

“Therefore, it would be wise for us to figure out how to build and craft an abiding, long-term career we love that pays well,’’ he said

He believes we should aim to work longer and make it a key life goal to retire later rather than earlier.

“That will grant us a lengthier period to build a retirement nest egg and this will thus require a shorter retirement funding period,’’ Devadason said.

Whatever plans the government may have for the development of the country amid trying times, the policies surrounding the aging population needs a review as the graying population grows.

It is ultimately about creating a self-sufficient ecosystem that nurtures and supports an aging population to live comfortably.

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