By Rungroj Yongrit
Bangkok, May 12 (EFE).- At the Ban Bang Khae care home in Bangkok, a group of older women — many of them wheelchair users — are guided through their morning stretching exercises by caregivers.
The city-run nursing home provides care for elderly, impoverished women who don’t have a home to call their own, and no family members who are able to take care of them.
“I don’t have children, my husband died and I used to work as a tailor. I don’t have any relatives so I have to live here,” says Aom, whose real name was withheld by the center for privacy reasons.
Another, who is known as Grandmother Lek says: “I have children but I understand they have to work and have no time to take care of me. So they leave me here. I understand.
“Don’t leave your mother. Please take care of her very well,” she adds.
Thailand has developed rapidly over the past four decades, growing into an upper-middle income country in a single generation as millions of people were lifted out of poverty.
But that massive development and increased wealth — Thailand’s economy grew 7.5% annually between 1960 and 1996, according to the World Bank — has also resulted in a rapidly aging population.
In 2016, 11% of the Thai population — approximately 7.5 million people — were 65 years or older, more than double the rate in 1995. By 2040, projections predict that 17 million Thais — more than a quarter of the population — will be over the age of 65.
Traditionally, families in Thailand are large, and it is common for three generations to live under one roof. But urbanization and the changing socio-economic landscape in the Southeast Asian nation have seen living arrangements shift, with more families now living in smaller households.
Ban Bang Khae says they have noticed a 20% decline in the number of older people living with their children over the past two decades as more seniors turn to nursing homes in their later years.
But for many older people who are still in good shape, living out their days at a care home is not on the top of their bucket list.
“I don’t want to stay home and do nothing,” says Chingchai Charnvit, a 67-year-old former banker.
He works at the customer service desk at a Lotus supermarket. Chingchai was hired under the 60 Young Jaew (‘60 Stay Cool’) initiative, a collaborative project between the retail giant and the Labor Ministry to employ retirees.
Nearly 1,000 retirees around the country have been employed under the program, which is designed to plug gaps in the labor market caused by a long-term shortage of young workers — many of whom are increasingly working in more qualified fields — and declining birth rates.
“I’m glad to work here. My family supports this idea and I can have an income (during the Covid-19 pandemic). My children are grown up,” says Chingchai, who was hired part-time. “I have passion for this job, I work six hours a day and can use my working experience and ability.”
Rising living costs coupled with stagnant wages — a trend that has only worsened since the pandemic struck — means that most elderly people struggle to make ends meet.
An April 2022 survey by the Institute for Population and Social Research found that 99.3% of older citizens in Thailand rely on the government-provided living allowance.