65% of India’s elders lost their livelihood & income during the COVID 19 lockdown

Bhubaneswar: Marking ‘World Elder Abuse Awareness Day’, HelpAge India today released Findings from a Nationwide Survey “The Elder Story: Ground reality during COVID 19” delving into the impact & challenges faced by India’s elders during the Lockdown phase. A book on ‘Ageing & Poverty in India’ authored by Mathew Cherian, CEO, HelpAge India was also launched. A webinar was organized on this where Minister SSEPD Mr. Ashok Panda, Immunologist Dr. K.K. Rout, Cyber expert Dr. R.N. Rout, Developmental Columnist Mr. Rudra Prasanna Rath and State Head-Odisha, HelpAge India Ms. Bharati Chakra discussed on the elderly issues during COVID-19.

The book highlights the elder situation in India, provides first hand insights and brings onboard the vast on-ground experience and expertise of the author. “This book is not an armchair exposition, but born out of two decades of experience and understanding the plight of economically weaker older people in rural areas and urban areas. The Book is being written to share experiences with the hope to make life better in old age, averting an old age crisis and to provide better solutions for the future especially for those elderly who are economically deprived and who have become marginalized, unheard and unseen after having worked all their lives.”- said Mathew Cherian.

Meanwhile, the Findings from the HelpAge Nationwide Survey released today, focusing on elders during the COVID 19 lockdown, hits home hard, as elder vulnerabilities are brought to fore.

“I used to work as a part-time maid, but since the lockdown began, my employers have told me there is no need to come. Having no savings, I survived on Chatua (sattu) for 15 days. I have no children, no other source of income, how will I survive.” – said B. Shanti (name changed), 63 years, Bhubaneswar.

“We are a family of vegetable vendors, my son worked as a labourer, but due to the lockdown there is no work and no source of income for daily wage earners. It is very difficult to survive and with scarcity of food and increasing prices, even buying basic ration is becoming difficult” – Vallamani (name changed), 67 years, Hyderabad.

“I have retired as an army officer. My children are out of country. I stay with my wife at Bhubaneswar. During lockdown, we were confined to our home. We feel very depressed and lonely, as we have no one to talk to us or listen to us, that’s why I called your helpline, if you have time to talk with me” – said Colonel Ray (name changed), 70 years, Bhubaneswar.

These are just some of the elder voices from the ground. A well-known fact, is that 90% of India’s elders belong to the unorganized sector, they have to continue to work in their later years in order to survive.
This became even more pronounced in the survey, as 65% of India’s elders lost their livelihood during the COVID 19 lockdown. 67% were in the age group of 60-69 years, a stark 28% in the old-old category (70 – 79 years) and 5% in the oldest-old age group (80 plus). Rural Elderly were harder hit with, 61% of those affected being from rural areas, while 39% from urban areas.
“The elderly are facing a difficult time during and after lockdown. Loss of income, Solitude due to social isolation and high health risk are the challenges they struggling with since lockdown and still continuing. The elderly risk being forgotten and unsupported when they require help the most. There is a need for special and coordinated action plan for elderly by the government, supported by community and family”- said Ms. Bharati Chakra, State Head-Odisha, HelpAge India.

A disturbing 62% of elder respondents were suffering from chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, cancer, hypertension etc. 42% elders reported worsening of health condition during the lockdown. Of these, 64% elders were from the rural areas as compared to 36% from urban areas.

Due to the lockdown, 78% elders faced challenges accessing essential goods and services nationally. Amongst the total rural respondents, 84% elders faced difficulty in accessing essential good & services and 71% amongst the total urban elderly. The top 3 essential goods & services elders had difficulty in accessing during the lockdown, were in clusters of the following common responses: Access to Food, Groceries & Medicines, followed by Access to Domestic Help/ Household Maid and the third being Access to Banking / ATM services.

61% respondents felt confined & socially isolated in their homes during the lockdown. Here the rural-urban distribution was equal, with 50% elders being from rural areas and 50% from urban areas. Interesting to note, was that 62% of those who felt confined were the Young Old between 60-69 years, where the feeling of frustration & confinement might have been higher, as this section of the aged are more able bodied and active, as compared to the Old Old, those between 70-79 years (31%) and Oldest Old, those above 80 years (7%).
On an awareness level, it was interesting to note that 91% of elders were aware of the signs and symptoms of COVID 19. As to the source of how this awareness was generated, 52% elders attributed it to Family & Relatives. A point that must be noted here, is that most elders are not digitally literate, so it would be safe to assume that access to digital & online media would have been limited.
The top 3 major Fears elders had during the lockdown, were clustered in common responses – 38 % had the Fear of getting infected by Covid 19, Fear of its spread through Socializing & Loss of Income, 34% feared Economic loss, fear of Starvation & No Work, and 12% had fear of Travelling, fear of Community Spread and their Low Immunity levels.
Elders had were very clear on their needs and had some clear Suggestions for the Government – more than 60% elder respondents mentioned Pension as their top need, while 50% wanted Medicines & Healthcare needs to be addressed.
The HelpAge India team on the ground and Elder Helpline (1800-345-1253) team has been reaching out to disadvantaged & vulnerable elders, the homeless & destitute, those living in urban slums & villages. In both rural & urban India, HelpAge has been providing them with the much needed rations, meals for survival, medicines, masks, hand wash, sanitizers and counselling anxiety ridden elders through the helpline along with provided them much needed essentials items they were unable to access. The need on ground is immense and the elderly the hardest hit. HelpAge has reached out to over 6 lakh elders across the country and provided them relief and support across 125 districts in 25 states.

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