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

Bolivia is the only country in Latin America that has a universal pension; despite this, 59% of Bolivia´s elderly still live on less than 7Bs a day.

Rebecca Wearmouth
Projects Aborad Volunteer
Stockton - United Kingdom

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.

Despite the clear merits of a system like the Renta Dignidad, the scheme has encountered problems. A significant problem has been that elderly people have struggled to collect the universal pension because they do not possess the appropriate identification papers, such as a birth certificate. An estimated 16% of elderly Bolivians do not possess the appropriate documents to prove their eligibility and thus cannot collect their Renta Dignidad. Unfortunately, it is often those who would benefit most from the Renta Dignidad, such as those from poorer communities or living in the country, that lack the appropriate documents in order to collect. An additional problem with the Renta Dignidad is that it must be collected, in person, from the bank, a potentially difficult task for an elderly person living outside of the city with little access to transport. It is true that the army does deliver the Renta Dignidad to more rural areas; however this is clearly not the most efficient or dependable of methods.

There have also been reported scams involving the collection of the Renta Dignidad. One of these scams, reported in La Patria Bolivia, 28 June 2008, involves individuals using fake identification in order to pass through the registration process and collect a Renta Dignidad which is not rightfully theirs. The same article also reported cases in which scam artists assist poor and illiterate elderly people in receiving their Renta Dignidad and then rob them as soon as they have collected it. A larger scam, reported by Por J. Marirrodriga, La Paz 11 August 2008 and, at the time of writing, unsolved, occurred when three hundred pensioners went to collect their Renta Dignidad only to be told it had already been claimed. Although these scams do not tarnish the positive intentions behind the introduction of a universal pension scheme, they do undermine public confidence in the social administration system.

An additional problem with the Renta Dignidad is that it has been wrapped in controversy, with some groups opposing it. Indymedia Bolivia, 3 May 2008, reported that a group, known as “De las Cacerolas Vacias” protested against the Renta Dignidad and abused elderly people as a part of this protest, claiming that elderly people collecting the Renta Dignidad were, “selling themselves for 200Bs.” The elderly responded by counter-arguing that “we have worked, we are retired and now we want our income”.

Despite the problems mentioned, the Renta Dignidad has, in general, been well received throughout Bolivia. Though, as discussed, people do encounter problems collecting it without the appropriate documents, groups do exist which help people to obtain such documents. An example of this being HelpAge International which supports socio-legal centres in La Paz and El Alto in helping older people get their birth certificates from the government registry office so they can receive their Renta Dignidad. Smaller organizations also exist which can help the elderly in collecting, such as the Buen Pastor home for the elderly, here in Cochabamba, which assists its residents in collecting their Renta Dignidad.

562,000 of those collecting the Renta Dignidad are not retirees and without it would have no income at all, surely evidence that the Rent Dignidad has the power to make a significant difference in the lives of many of Bolivia´s elderly. Additionally, since the pension scheme was changed from the Bonosol to the Renta Dignidad the amount of people collecting has gone up from 489,000 to 676,000, although the fact that the age of eligibility was extended by five years should be taken into consideration when viewing these figures. Though no impact studies have as yet been done on the Renta Dignidad itself, a recent study of 427 elderly collecting the Bonosol (Help Age International, 12 June, 2008) revealed that money received through such universal pension schemes is, in general, not squandered: 37% went towards food, 20% was spent on healthcare, 10% was spent on clothing, 10% was spent on accommodation and utility bills and 23% was passed on to the rest of the family. A further argument in favor of the Renta Dignidad is to compare the situation of the elderly in Bolivia with that of Peru: whereas, in Bolivia (as a 2008 survey showed) 50% of elderly people rely on the Renta Dignidad as their only source of income, in Peru, where no-such pension exists, 70% receive no income at all.

Despite clear complications surrounding the Renta Dignidad, it is an intiative which is making a positive difference in many elderly people´s lives, especially in the lives of the very poor, for whom 200Bs a month can be the difference between life and death. It is clear that Bolivia´s elderly do require more support, the amount of elderly beggars present on the streets of Cochabamba alone is evidence of that. However, the Renta Dignidad at least signals a step in the right direction.

Asilo de Ancianos Buen Pastor: a safe haven for the elderly

At 16:30 the conversation was interrupted by the ringing of a bell; “Dinner!” explained Sister Cecilia, “It is so early because most of them go to bed at half five.” She was referring to the residents of Asilo de Ancianos Buen Pastor, a home for the elderly, who are all in their seventies or older and mostly abandoned. Some have been brought in from the streets where they begged, and tragically, according to Sister Cecelia, there are cases where their families would leave them on the streets all day to beg and collect them at the end of the day. Others are brought to the home by family members who cannot cope with the emotional, physical or financial burden of caring for their elderly relative. Sometimes they say they will come back, but they rarely do. Nonetheless Sister Cecilia does not feel bitter towards the families; most of the residents have severe physical and/or mental disabilities and she knows only too well what a tough job it is to care for them.

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