DRDF study bares impact of social pension on the elderly

The elderly is one of the sectors which is most disadvantaged in the country today. In response, the government has been trying, through policies and programs, to improve their conditions especially regarding access to goods and services, affordability of medicine, and availability of recreational centers. In relation, the latest law to be passed and enacted by the government after active lobbying from elderly welfare groups Republic Act 9994 or the Expanded Senior Citizens’ Act of 2010. Among the law’s key provisions is a social pension amounting to P500.00 per month. Through the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction (NHTS-PR) and local-level validation, a list of indigent elderly without support from relatives is drawn and revalidated annually. Those in the list receive an accrued amount of P1, 500.00 every quarter of the year.

A year after its implementation in 2011, the DSWD conducted a study to evaluate the impacts of the social pension. It showed that while the program was generally going smoothly, there were a number of areas requiring improvement including the selection of beneficiaries and the distribution of the pension. Issues of politics trumping eligibility requirements in some areas and long lines during the day of pay-out, among others, were raised.

In 2014, the Coalition of Services for the Elderly (COSE) in partnership with HelpAge International and the DSWD and with funding support from the European Union called for a follow-up to determine the state of the social pension. As a research organization which undertakes studies on various facets of the population like the elderly and whose members specialize in gerontology, the Demographic Research and Development Foundation (DRDF) rose to the challenge and henceforth was commissioned to undertake the study.

A mix of qualitative and quantitative methods were used to gather and analyze data from San Ildefonso, Bulacan, Quezon City, and Binangonan, Rizal, representing rural, highly urbanized, and rural-island respectively. Survey was conducted with 301 pensioners and non-pensioners using purposive random sampling and complimented with focus group discussions conducted with implementers, recipients, and non-recipients in each of the aforementioned areas. A key informant interview was also conducted with a gerontologist from the University of the Philippines Institute of Aging.

Results validate the presumption that the elderly- both recipients and non-recipients- are income and food poor having low and fluctuating household i
ncomes. In terms of the impact of social pension to beneficiaries, the latter appear to be better off than their non-recipient counterparts but only slightly. Among recipients, there still exists very high levels of food insecurity. Psychologically though, the pension provides older people with a sense of value within their household and the community emanating from the increased capacity to contribute to household expenses.

In terms of the selection of beneficiaries, issues raised from the initial DSWD study appear to have persisted. Both FGD and survey reported exclusion of many eligible poor elderly while at the same time, benefiting non-indigent elderly, arousing questions on the practicality of the NHTS in the selection procedure as well as related suspicions of politicization. On the delivery of the pension, suggestions were raised on the use of alternative delivery systems to allay security, trust, and distance issues.

From the above findings, the DRDF enumerated a number of recommendations to improve the social pension. These include the crafting of a better selection and validation system that will remove or reduce to minimum the issues found in the two consecutive studies, the setting-up of a working information system including a means for the elderly to air their grievances without fear of retribution from implementers and politicians, and the increase of manpower to be able to handle the increasing number of beneficiaries.