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61% of India's elderly could be without any income security by 2050. Here's why

Opinion study across Gujarat & Rajasthan found that public pension should be extended to all elderly

Kinjal Sampat & Nandini Dey | IndiaSpend  |  New Delhi 

Photo: Wikicommons
Photo: Wikicommons

India’s 860 million-strong working population (15-64 years), the world’s largest, is beginning to Over the next 33 years, by 2050, 32.4 million Indians, or 20% of the population, will be above 60 years of

If continues to cover only 35% of senior citizens as it does today, 20 million, or 61.7% of India’s elderly population, will be without any income security by 2050.

The Centre pays Rs 200 per month under the National Old Scheme (IGNOAPS) to every Indian over the of 60 and living under the poverty line (the ability to spend Rs 33 per day in urban and Rs 27 per day in areas as per the Tendulkar committee on poverty line). The states are encouraged to add to this sum and are free to expand the coverage. Currently, states pay anything between Rs 200 and Rs 2,000 as public pensions.

Should public pensions be universal or targeted? What should be the minimum offered by a public, non-contributory From which should it be granted? To find answers to these questions through opinions of older people, a study was conducted in and by the Centre for Equity Studies (CES), New Delhi in August-November 2016.

The study, yet unpublished, collected opinions and experiences of 1,505 people above the of 55 years across 14 locations in and The states were chosen because they represent two ends of the spectrum in the universalisation debate: Gujarat, India’s 10th richest state in per capita gross domestic product (GDP) ranking, offers a targeted of Rs 400 only to the poor at the time the study was conducted (since then the amount has been revised to Rs 500), and Rajasthan, 23rd in the per capita list, extends Rs 500 to (nearly) all senior citizens.

The study found a wide and conclusive gap between policy and Opinion across both states was unanimous that public should be extended to all elderly and should be initiated earlier than at 60 years. The popular view was that Rs 2,000 was an adequate sum, which is four to six times higher than their present entitlement.

Across gender, caste, family backgrounds people want universal pensions

pursues a narrowly targeted scheme whereby only the poorest senior citizens are entitled to public pensions. has near-universalised entitlements whereby women above the of 55 years and men above the of 58 years receive pensions as long as they are not entitled to pensions from any other source or are not taxpayers.


Arguments against universalisation suggest that the cost of universalisation is generally lowering the entitlement for those who need it the most. Targeting allows for public funds to be utilised for those who need them the most. On the other end of the spectrum are arguments which propose that universalisation strengthens the moral-politico claim and the delivery of the public good or service in question–in this case, pensions.

Source: Centre for Equity Studies

Note: Respondents in = 791; in = 714. Decimals are rounded off.

The results of the survey showed that is functioning independent of the policy on the issue of universalisation. Majority (83%) of respondents from Gujarat, a state which has experienced a targeted public scheme, were in agreement with those from (81%) who have experienced a near-scheme for about five years. The is unequivocally skewed in support of universalisation.


Older people living with families supported universalisation of pensions as much as those living alone. This is an important finding because till about 2007, the National Old Scheme, as it was then called, considered destitution both a reason and a condition for being entitled to non-contributory, public pensions. In Gujarat, destitution continues to be used as a criteria–senior citizens who have sons above the of 21 years are not considered eligible for public pensions.

Support for universalisation was observed in similar proportion across gender. The support was also consistent across scheduled tribes, other backward classes and other castes. About 82% people in each of these groups supported universalisation. Nearly 95% of those belonging to scheduled castes supported universalisation.

Views On Universalisation of Pensions, By Family Structure/Support

Source: Centre for Equity Studies

Note: Respondents in = 631; in = 765. ‘No Opinion’ set as missing. Decimals are rounded off.

Rs 2,000 is sufficient, four to six times over current entitlement

Pensions are an assurance of continuation of consumption levels required for dignified living in the face of reduction in income due to physiological atrophy and comparatively restricted income-generating opportunities. At the time of the study, the beneficiaries in were entitled to Rs 400 per month and Rajasthan, Rs 500.

Beneficiaries above the of 75 years were entitled to Rs 750 a month. These pensions did not allow elderly Indians working in the unorganised sector, who need public pensions the most, to retire, as IndiaSpend reported on April 20, 2017. These entitlements don’t support lowest official poverty line consumption levels of Rs 27 in and Rs 33 in urban per day as per the Tendulkar Committee.

People across and voiced concerns about the amount of entitlement. Less than 3% in and 13% in stated a figure equivalent to or less than Rs 750 a month–at present the highest amount entitled under IGNOAPS to those above the of 75 years–was sufficient. Less than one-third mentioned a figure less than Rs 1,000 per month.

How much did people think it took to ensure a dignified living? The average monthly ‘sufficient’ amount in was Rs 1,875 whereas in it was Rs 2,494, the study found. The modal value–the most frequently occurring response–was Rs 1,000 in and Rs 2,000 in There was no significant difference between men and women on this count.

Source: Centre for Equity Studies

Note: Respondents in = 714; in = 791

Views On What A Sufficient Monthly Is, By Gender

Source: Centre for Equity Studies

Note: Respondents in = 751; = 698. ‘No Opinion’ set as missing. Decimals are rounded off.

This amount is equivalent to half the minimum wage presently assured. The civil society group Parishad has been making similar demands regarding amount of entitlement.

Bolivia, a country with a sizably smaller economy but comparable to on other economic indicators, offers about $38 per month, a little over Rs 2,400, as part of its programme, Renta Dignidad. Most countries with decent programmes such as Bolivia’s ensure an entitlement amount equivalent to anywhere between 15 to 25% of per capita

Family/social support and the amount of desired by a beneficiary share a counter-intuitive relationship. Elderly respondents singly taking care of themselves consistently quoted a smaller amount than the ones being taken care of by family. This fits in with field observations–many older citizens expressed a desire to buy petty essentials such as notebooks or a fruit for a grandchild or to pay for the medical expenses of an ailing family member. They thought of their inability to pay for these small expenses as a personal failing.

Views On What A Sufficient Monthly Is, By Family Structure/Support

Source: Centre for Equity Studies

Note: Respondents in = 781; in = 700. ‘No Opinion’ is set as missing. Decimals are rounded off.

Start pensions earlier, say most

Many factors such as average life expectancy, structure of the society and physical atrophy should inform the at which pensions are initiated. The IGNOAPS initiates pensions at the of 60 like many industrially advanced nations. But the average life expectancy in India–68 years–is much lower than industrially advanced nations. We asked people during our research whether they thought pensions should be initiated at an earlier or later than the one stipulated by the policy at present.

Majority of people felt that pensions should be initiated at an earlier A little over one-fourth of respondents in and about one-fifth of respondents in said they were fine with the at which entitlements were provided. As with earlier questions, gender does not make a significant impact on the opinions but a marginally higher number of women support earlier initiation of pensions across both the states.

Source: Centre for Equity Studies

Note: Respondents in = 791; in = 714. Decimals are rounded off.

Views On Of Initiation Of Pensions, By Gender

Source: Centre for Equity Studies

Note: Respondents in = 741; in = 630. ‘No Opinion’ set as missing. Decimals are rounded off.

The divergence between policy and is observed across all three parameters–universalisation, adequacy as well as the at which pensions are initiated. It is on the issue of universalisation and adequacy that there is a comparatively high degree of divergence from the policy as compared to of initiation. We recognise that aligning completely with might not be possible for policy makers given practical constraints but this is an attempt to initiate a debate on age-based pensions in the public sphere by foregrounding and the voice of the elderly.

The study was conducted in partnership with Astha Sansthan, UNNATI and Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan in Rajasthan and with ANANDI and Mahila Housing Seva Trust in Sandeep Ghusale coordinated the survey in Maliya, A more detailed discussion on pensions for the elderly can be found in the ‘Exclusion Report 2016’ released in May 2017 by CES and Yoda Press.

(Sampat is a Delhi- based researcher and Dey is a researcher with Centre for Equity Studies, New Delhi.)

Republished with permission from, a data-driven, public-interest journalism non-profit organisation. You can read the original article here.

First Published: Wed, June 14 2017. 10:15 IST