Nearly 200 representatives of the elderly in Cambodia called on the government to consider prioritising the provision of cash allowances to the elderly to help address their health-related concerns post-pandemic.

The appeal came during the Second National Forum on Older People, held on September 13 in Battambang province under the theme “Social Pensions for Senior Citizens in Cambodia”. The forum was organised by HelpAge Cambodia, OXFAM and UNDP in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation.

The first such forum was held in Phnom Penh in February last year, with 150 representatives in attendance.

Tum Vira, executive director of HelpAge Cambodia, said that providing support to the elderly is crucial to protect their wellbeing.

“Despite the government’s great efforts to address the plight of the vulnerable – including the elderly – through policies and social assistance programmes, older people still experience many problems which remain unresolved,” he said.

Vira said Cambodia and Laos are the only Southeast Asian nations which do not have social pension programmes for the elderly as yet.

He said this second forum was an opportunity to present sufficient evidence for the government to consider preparing a “Family Package Programme”.

According to a research report on “Income of the Elderly and Social Protection during and after the Covid-19 pandemic” – conducted by the National Institute of Social Affairs in early 2021 – approximately 55 per cent of those surveyed said their incomes had been affected and they did not earn enough to meet their costs of living. This was in spite of 45 per cent of the respondents receiving support through the government’s cash transfer programme.

At the end of 2018, the institute also conducted a study of “The Needs and Challenges of the Elderly in Cambodia” in five provinces. It confirmed that family support, predominantly from their children, was the primary source of income for 71 per cent of the Kingdom’s elderly.

The report highlighted that many people fell into poverty as they grew older. Women in particular were more likely to rely on household members, as most spent their working lives in unpaid work – caring for children and housekeeping.

The researchers of both studies urged the government to consider developing cash support programmes for the elderly to keep them from falling into poverty.

Mey Eng, a 68-year-old from Prek Preah commune’s Nom Kreap village in Battambang town who was also present at the second forum, said the government should provide cash support to the elderly, as most are unable to work.

“I want to receive a state subsidy so I can afford to buy medicine if I get sick,” she said.

Thiv Sam Ath, a 75-year-old from Prey Kuy commune’s Prey Kuy village in Kampong Thom province’s Kampong Svay district, said receiving support from the government is important, especially for older people whose families are impoverished, or those who, like him, suffer from a disability.

“I really need a subsidy to cover my daily expenses, including food and medicine,” he said.

Phean Sophoan, national director of OXFAM in Cambodia, said her organisation was proud to have worked directly with HelpAge to give a voice to the elderly, and to advocate for their access to social protection, especially in times of crisis.

“The elderly are an important human resource to their families and to society. Unfortunately, they still face issues of discrimination, employment bias, exclusion from family decision-making and loneliness,” she said.

She added that migration has shifted many family’s economic burdens onto the elderly, because they are often unable to earn incomes as they are

relied upon to care for grandchildren. This means they lose opportunities to participate in social activities and often cannot access healthcare.

Social affairs ministry secretary of state Samheng Boros told The Post that despite the country’s ongoing Covid-19 crisis and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the government is paying close attention to the hardship of people, particularly the elderly and impoverished families. It has provided cash payments to more than 300,000 elderly people since June 2020, he noted.

“Due to a limited national budget, the government needs to target the poorest and most vulnerable, as they need the extra support more than others,” he said.

Boros added the government is continuing to extend cash support to those who live near to the poverty line, and that there may be a more permanent policy implemented by the end of the year.