While rapid economic growth since the 1990s has propelled Vietnam from among the world’s poorest countries to middle-income status, not everyone has shared in this growing wealth. The elderly poor, for instance.
According to United Nations figures, more Vietnamese than ever are now working into their sunset years. Around 40 per cent of those aged 70 to 74 are still employed in some way.
Roughly seven in 10 of the working seniors in Vietnam’s urban areas work in the informal sector – as market vendors, taxi drivers, waste collectors, scrap pickers, and street vendors. It is tough menial work for low returns.
Vietnam’s general population is still relatively young – just over 10 per cent are aged 60 years and older – but it is fast greying. In fact, according to World Bank calculations, it could now be the world’s most rapidly ageing country.
Officially, about 11 per cent of Vietnam’s population lives in poverty. In urban areas, the official poverty line is defined at 900,000 dong (S$56) in personal income.
WATCH: How this collective of old folks help each other
WHEN FAMILY’S NOT ENOUGH
In Vietnam, as has been the case in other modernising countries, the family model of support is not what it used to traditionally be.
According to surveys, more elderly Vietnamese are living alone. In urban areas, more than 11 per cent of those aged 80 and above live by themselves (many are women who outlived their husbands).
And with declining birth rates, as the current young generation ages, there may be less support available for ageing parents.
A “new concern”, said UNFPA’s Ms Nguyen Ngoc Quynh, “is that young people do not want to live in multi-generational households anymore”. “They consider old people to be a burden. I think they (the old people) also see themselves as a burden,” she added.
She cited the example of a family in her neighbourhood. “They were quarrelling all the time about who’s taking care of their parents. So the old man in that house, two years ago, he left home. They still haven’t found him. He was about 73.”
What all this means, experts note, is that better social safety nets for the elderly will be increasingly important as the population ages inexorably. But what can be done?
The problem comes back to the fact that more than half of Vietnamese work in the informal sector.
In Vietnam, those working for the public sector and corporations enjoy pension payouts after they retire, under the social insurance scheme (it is similar to Singapore’s Central Provident Fund in that both employer and employee contribute to it). But they account for only about 29 per cent of seniors, who are among the better off.
The government has tried to encourage workers in the informal sector to contribute voluntarily to the pension fund – but it has had little success so far, due in part to the high contribution rate required of workers.
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