Issue - June 2009

June 2009


Inside this edition: People are considered old when certain changes occur in their activities or social roles. Usually this happens around 60 to 65 years old. In different countries people are considered part of the third age; many people said that to stay in shape and to keep active is the more...

June 2009

The Opinions of the Young

Christina Moore asked the not-so-old of Cochabamba how they view the lives of the elderly in Bolivia, and if thinking about their own future worries them.

Christina Moore
Projects Abroad Volunteer
London - United Kingdom

The lives of the elderly in Bolivia vary greatly. In order to gauge perceptions of old age among Cochabambinos that are not yet old, I spoke with: a University student living with her elderly parents; a young man also living with his elderly mother and working in the Tourism Department of the Municipal Building; a lady working at a clothes stall in La Cancha market who has a five year old son; a wood craftsman who has four adult children; a 51 year old woman who works as a piano teacher and also runs a fixed, enclosed stall at La Cancha market. Who lives with her husband and two of her adult daughters.

We discussed how support like the Renta Dignidad helps. I was interested to know if people think that the elderly should be supported. Do they have a right to support, or is monetary aid as the Renta Dignidad a privilege? And are the elderly adequately supported? The Opinions of the Young We had a range of different answers mostly because of the age and the economic situation of the interviewees and their access to contribute to the retirement fund system

The clothes vendor described how many elderly people have no one to accompany them to the bank to collect their Renta Dignidad, and that the staff treat them badly and make a lot of errors. On the other hand she claims that the amount they receive is plenty as they rarely spend it on themselves anyway; “They buy things for their children and grandchildren, like fashionable clothes and non-essentials.” For her The Renta Dignidad is a privilege and a gift - an easy solution.” “I am continually preparing for older age.” As for family, she does not mention the father of her son, who she lives with, and is not going to assume that her son will be around in the future, “He is so young now, who can say what will happen? I do not know where he will be, what he will do, or even if he might die.”

The student’s parents collect the Renta Dignidad, but it is not enough; they have to work to support themselves and are limited in how much they can contribute to the family. He remarks, “Maybe I will have some help from my family, but for the most part, no, I will have to work and support myself.” He had no ideas in relation to improving the situation of the elderly in Bolivia, but agrees that “a plan needs to be worked out… we will all be old one day.” He simply believes that it is a right to receive monetary support because “old people need help.”

The wood-carver remarks that for his father and fatherin- law, the Renta Dignidad just covers “their sweets and ice creams,” so they rely heavily on the support of the family. However he adds that for the really impoverished elderly and those in the country, that money probably means more to them, and he expects they rely on it more. “People work for many years and if they did not receive anything that would not be fair.”

The tourist office employee declares, “As Bolivians we contribute, and therefore it is a right that we receive support.” He explained that the support available depends on the economic situation of the country, but that “We should support the elderly and work together with systems available – we do not do much really.” According to him, the most important aspect for the elderly is health, and currently a good system does not exist. However, he adds that they are not the only vulnerable group. The student replied, “I am not worried yet, I am focusing on maintaining myself now.”

Considering the difficulties faced by the elderly generation, I wondered about the concerns of my interviewees regarding their own futures.

The wood craftsman’s main anxiety about growing old is that his health may suffer, but in contrast the worries of the two mothers are more to do with providing for their families. He has not taken any chances and despite being self-employed too, he contributes on a monthly basis to a private pension scheme, and therefore expects to retire at 70 years old. In addition, he is sure that he and his children will continue to support each other.

The piano teacher explained, “Families in Bolivia are ‘nuclear’ and the woman is at the centre.” She says she may not have the possibility of retiring, and currently does not contribute to a pension scheme, although she is thinking about starting soon. She is, however, confident that after a lifetime of being generous to others she will not be left without at least moral support, “If you give, you will receive, it is the law of equilibrium,” she maintains.

The clothes vendor is continually preparing for older age. There is no guarantee that she will be supported and therefore she must invest in the future of herself and her son, in particular with respect to his studies and the possibility of university. “I am an informal worker and therefore without employment benefits, I cannot afford to join other available pension schemes.” Therefore she does not anticipate being able to retire.

The elderly in Bolivia range from being supported in the nest of the family, to being alone on the streets. In relation to improving the situation for the elderly in Bolivia, the people I interviewed do not expect to receive much help in their old age.

The Right to Dignity: An Overview of the Situation for the Elderly in Bolivia

Introduced in January 2008 as a replacement for the Bonosol (Bolivia´s previous universal pension), the Renta Dignidad is a universal pension for all over 60s in Bolivia. The Bonosol had been in place in Bolivia since 1996 and granted all Bolivians over the age of 65 an annual payment of 1,800Bs. The Renta Dignidad raised this amount to 2,400Bs a year for those who receive no other kind of pension (those who do collect an additional pension are entitled to 1,800Bs a year), lowered the age of eligibility to 60 and made it possible for the pension to be collected monthly. A significant reason for the introduction of the Renta Dignidad was the work of the National Association of Older People, who pushed for policy changes through a series of consultations with representatives from both their organization and the government. The government recently asked congress to increase the amount of pension provided by the Renta Dignidad to the elderly with no other source of income; however, at the time of writing, the outcome of this initiative is still unknown.

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