Elderly People Face Income Struggles

Sang Sat, 84, who lives in Chamkar Lahong village of Battambang province, grows lemongrass near her home to sell for $5 for every harvesting time. Photo from HAC

Social funding falls short for many

PHNOM PENH--Older Cambodians face serious issues about their physical and mental health and their income, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite various government welfare policies for old people, social support services are not yet extensive and mainly involve retirement pensions for former public servants and veterans. Most elderly people get little support.

Some older people, especially women, have crucial roles in earning money to support their families despite being between 60 and 80 years old.

Chhon Nget, 62, who lives in Prey Kuy commune in Kampong Thom province, is responsible for feeding four grandchildren while their parents live in Phnom Penh.

She makes money by growing vegetables but sales have dropped off during COVID-19 while the money sent by her family has fallen from 400$ to 200$ per month.    

In addition to fears about her financial stability, Nget is also afraid of communicating with local people due to the spread of the pandemic.

“I am very old but need to take care of my four grandchildren by selling vegetables to support my family,” Nget said. “I don’t have enough time to relax,”

Sang Sat, 84, who lives in Chamkar Lahong village of Battambang province, grows lemongrass near her home to sell for $5 for every harvesting time.

With her health deteriorating and back and ankle pain almost daily, she says, “I am too old but still work daily to get an income for my family even though my health is terrible. My family still relies on me​ for housework, decisions and problem solving,” she said.

According to a report by Help Age International (HAC), 67% of elderly people have problems communicating with other local people including visiting pagodas and traditional events during the pandemic.

HAC mainly focused on three provinces; Battambang, Kampong Thom and Phnom Penh. It showed that out of 60 elderly people, 70% depending on income provided by their family.

During the pandemic, the situation for older people is getting worse. Of the 60 people surveyed, 55% had been affected in their daily lives.

Tum Vira, HIA executive director, said it is hard for older people to get health checks as mental health and income decline.

“They find it difficult to travel to hospital. They are noticeably afraid of infection with the virus and spreading it to their family members,” she said. “The income their family is providing is reducing,”

HAC said elderly people without a national social security card or retirement pension need help for living and treatment. Some lack food or are homeless or landless or stay in the pagodas and some are left behind by their children.

“Even though some older people have a better lifestyle living with their family, some still face issues. They think it is too much to ask for help and money from their children when they are sick. They face a lot of stress and anxiety,” Tum Vira said.

A letter from Prime Minister Hun Sen on the Cambodian and International Day of the Elderly on Oct. 1, 2021, expressed support for the cause of respecting the elderly and raising the consciousness to recognize their immeasurable value.

“Elder advice and counsel is one of the solid foundations of the moral and ethical education of our society," he said.

Vira said the elderly social security service in Cambodia is still imperfect. Out of 1,600 elder associations initiated by the government, 80% don’t work.

Kun Chea Sin, director of the Department of Elderly Welfare of the Ministry of Social Affairs, acknowledged that there were about 1600 associations in communes but only 40% were effective because of a lack of resources and the unwillingness of officials to carry out the work.

To reduce poverty, the government should support retired public servants, former veterans, people with disabilities and employees. Cambodia has implemented the law on social security for these groups since 2002 for retirement pensions, work risks and social insurance.

Tum Vira said these laws and policies contribute little to the elderly, and Cambodia should focus such efforts to contribute directly to older people.

The Cambodian Census 2019 shows that Cambodia has a population of more than 15 million, of which 8.9 percent are over 60, an increase of 5.25% in two decades. This figure is expected to increase to 21 percent by 2050.

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