Remittances… A Lifeline for the Elderly
Estelle Parks, an 87-year-old farmer, relies on remittances from her children and grandchildren, who live overseas, to survive. Mrs Parks, a widow, who used to farm in Westmoreland, retired after she developed arthritis in her hands; as a result, remittances have been the main source of funds to meet her living expenses.
She also receives a small pension of about $5,600, given that her husband was a former sugar worker. “But, the $5,600 per fortnight was not enough to pay my utility bills, fill my prescription and buy food. Now, I am receiving help from my children and grandchildren who send money to cover these expenses,” Mrs. Parks explained.
However, her situation is different from that of 75-year-old Richard Blake who depends solely on the remittances from his children to meet his expenses.
“The remittance really helps me, because in addition to covering the bills, I have something left back for bus fare to go about my business and pay tithes at church. If it were not for that money from my two children abroad, I know I would have it hard,” he said.
Data from the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) indicate that remittances to Jamaica continue to increase, with the latest figures showing that in May 2015, Jamaicans received US$175.3 million in remittances, which was US$3.5 million more than the same period in 2014.
In fact, remittances continue to impact development and welfare; and, currently amount to approximately 17 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. It is also an important source of foreign exchange; and, provides balance of payment support.
In the case of the elderly, the majority use the funds to pay utility bills and rent; purchase food and medication; as well as, to cover their transportation cost.
Angella Toyloy, Executive Director of the National Council of Senior Citizens, was unable to give an exact figure as to the number of elderly persons in Jamaica who rely on remittances for their day-to-day survival; however, a 2010 BOJ survey stated that about six percent of all remittance recipients were retirees 65 and over.
“We know that many seniors depend on remittances for their survival; but, we cannot confirm the exact number of persons in that position,” Mrs Toyloy explained.
At the same time, Leesa Kow, general manager for JN Money Services, owners and operators of the JN Money Transfer brand pointed out that remittances do play a part in the survival of seniors, based on studies done by various multilateral lending organisations.
“Studies by the IDB and World Bank indicate that, in most Latin American and Caribbean states, a portion of remittances goes towards taking care of elderly persons, with many relying entirely on remittances to survive,” she informed, “And, we do know, based on a BOJ study, that some six percent of remittance recipients are seniors.”
Data from the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) suggest that this number will increase at some point in the future. The data suggests that, by 2050, the number of persons 60 years and older would surpass the youth population given the increase in life expectancy.
The National Insurance Scheme (NIS) has also indicated that 40 percent of Jamaicans rely on $5,600 per fortnight from that agency as their only source of income.
And, the Statistical institute of Jamaica informs that 82 percent of workers in the private sector will only have access to NIS benefits when they retire; and, currently only eight percent, or about 96,000 Jamaicans are part of a private pension scheme.
It is against this background that Ms Toyloy opines that there needs to be increased focus on retirement planning. “I believe we are at the stage where retirement planning should be made compulsory. We should encourage persons that the earlier they start saving, the better,” she said.
Miss Kow, who is also President of the Jamaica Money Remitters Association (JMRA), adds that saving for retirement should be a priority for younger persons, once they start working; and, even seniors collecting remittances should be encouraged to save.
“We know the difficulty many seniors experience due to medical and other expenses. However, we do believe that those who can should be encouraged to save a part of their remittances. And, we need to encourage more persons to start saving for retirement from they are young, to avoid depending entirely on the state when they get older,” Miss Kow maintained.