300 million elderly people not getting long-term care: International Labour Organisation

Elderly in a nursing home.
Elderly in a nursing home. PHOTO: ST FILE

GENEVA (AFP) - More than half the world's elderly lack access to long-term care, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said in a report on Monday (Sept 28), condemning the "deplorable" situation facing a rapidly ageing population.

A new report from the United Nations agency showed that some 300 million people over the age of 65 cannot easily access long-term care when needed.

Despite the ballooning need of the elderly for long-term care, Monday's report showed most countries were ignoring or under-prioritising their needs.

"This deplorable situation is reflected in the very low public LTC (long-term care) expenditure, which amounts to less than 1 percent of GDP on average globally," study author Xenia Scheil-Adlung said in a statement.

The ILO report charged that "discrimination and negative attitudes towards older persons" were a big part of the problem.

"Ageism is a global phenomenon that is sometimes even laid down in regulations and legislation, for example higher costs or unfavourable conditions of certain insurance policies for older persons, or being refused for specific medical services due to age," it said.

Only 5.6 per cent of the world's population lives in countries, including Germany and Japan, that provide universal long-term care.

A full 48 per cent of the global population meanwhile is not protected by national legislation on long-term care, while another 46.3 per cent are largely excluded from coverage due to narrow regulations that limit benefits to the poorest.

In Africa, more than 90 per cent of the elderly have no access to long-term care when they need it.

But even the most "generous" countries, found in Europe, spend only two per cent or less of their GDP on long-term care, the ILO report said.

This forces many older people living in even some of the world's richest countries to pay for up to 100 per cent of their care from their own pockets.

"Persons in need should not face financial hardship and an increased risk of poverty due to the financial consequences of accessing care," the report said.

The study showed that the world would need 13.6 million more care workers to cover the needs of the elderly.

The current shortfall is largely made up for by unpaid female family members, who often are forced to reduce the time they spend at a paying job to care for elderly relatives, putting the entire family at risk of sliding into poverty, the report said.

The ILO study dismissed as "ageism" fears that care for the elderly is becoming unaffordable as populations grow older.

Instead of fretting over the cost of caring for the elderly, countries should realise it is in their own interest to expand long-term care, the report said, pointing especially to the job creation potential in the field.