Address Poverty Issues Besetting Elderly Population – Experts

Malaysia’s transition to ageing nation status is just seven years away in 2030 when 15.3 percent of its population are expected to be aged 60 and above. Has the government already embarked on plans and strategies that will enable its senior citizens to lead a more active, healthy and productive life? This is the second of a two-part article.

oseli Katim is a divorcee and has no children. The 66-year-old former soldier ekes out a living by selling tender coconut water at a stall in Taman Jasmin in Kajang, Selangor.

He is not as energetic as he used to be as he was diagnosed with heart disease four years ago and has to seek treatment at Hospital Kajang every six months.

“But I’ve to continue working to support myself as I’ve no one to care for me,” Roseli told Bernama, looking forlorn.

“Every day, I sell coconut water. Sometimes I’ve customers, sometimes none. Some days it is hard to sell even 10 coconuts… if it rains, I just wait here (at the stall).”

Roseli Katim--BERNAMApic

As he had already suffered a few heart attacks, he was forced to hire a worker to help him run his stall.

“Each time I have a heart attack, I end up hospitalised and am unable to work. That’s why I got someone to help me run my stall whenever I’m unwell,” he said, adding he makes about RM1,500 to RM2,000 a month from his business.

E-hailing driver Azmi Hamid (not his real name) is 60 but retirement is certainly not an option for him. He has to continue working to support his family as four of his children from his second marriage are still schooling.

“I’ve four children from my first marriage who are now in their 30s and have families of their own. Every day, I pray for good health so that I can continue working and be able to provide for my four younger children,” said the former cook who now drives for Grab and works more than eight hours a day.

There are many others in the same boat as Roseli and Azmi. For senior citizens forced to fend for themselves or who have dependents needing financial support, retirement is unthinkable.  

Malaysia is expected to transition to ageing nation status in 2030, which is just seven years away. But when a sizeable portion of its elderly population barely has enough savings to sustain them in their sunset years, their well-being comes into question.

Employees Provident Fund (EPF) chairman Tan Sri Ahmad Badri Mohd Zahir has been quoted as saying that an estimated 44 percent, or seven million, of the nation’s 16.7 million workforce do not contribute to EPF or the public service pension scheme. The majority of the non-contributing employees work in the informal sector and include freelancers and the self-employed.

About 56 percent of Malaysia’s workforce currently contribute to the retirement savings fund, a rate which is lower than the global average of 68 percent.

Experts, meanwhile, describe this situation as likely to cause the nation to witness a “tsunami of elderly people” living in destitution.

Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) Faculty of Human Ecology lecturer Associate Prof Zumilah Zainalaludin said the issue of elderly people living in poverty in Malaysia is currently a “matter of concern” and requires serious consideration from all parties and not just the government.

Prof Madya Dr Zumilah Zainalaludin

For the record, according to the microdata of the 2019 Household Income and Expenditure Survey of 5,197 senior citizens carried out by UPM’s Malaysian Research Institute on Ageing (MyAgeing), about 31.2 percent of them were from poor households. The 2022 national poverty line income is RM2,589 or less a month while a monthly income of RM1,198 or less constitutes hardcore poverty.

As for statistics compiled by the Social Welfare Department (JKM), a total of 143,499 senior citizens were receiving aid from the department as of August 2023.



According to Zumilah, elderly people grapple with poverty due to factors such as lack of financial security for their old age, insufficient savings, high healthcare costs and the need to support their families.  

“There are also cases of aged parents who have (grown) children but the children themselves are poor. This is the phenomenon happening now… we can’t blame their children for not being able to take care of their parents.

“Just imagine a couple with five children living in a small three-room flat having to take care of their elderly parents. If they have a condition like dementia, taking care of them can be costly as they will need disposable diapers, medications and other things. These challenges are not easy to deal with,” she said.

Such life situations, she added, are real and the emotional pressure that comes with it may cause a person to inflict harm on their aged father or mother.

Pointing to various cases of abuse and murder reported in the media involving the elderly and committed by their close family members, Zumilah said there is a need for in-depth research on the matter as it may be closely linked to poverty issues that require immediate intervention programmes.

She also claimed that homelessness among senior citizens is becoming “increasingly serious”, adding that her own research on elderly people found that multiple vulnerabilities were prevalent within this group.

“They are vulnerable not only in terms of their age but also in terms of their poverty, homelessness, destitute state, the various illnesses afflicting them and so on,” she said.

As such, she added, elderly communities mired in poverty need to be provided aid through various strategies to ensure their financial security. These strategies may include employment schemes, entrepreneurial programmes, microcredit programmes and community support programmes.



Zumilah said Malaysia currently is seen as lacking in effective strategies to deal with the ageing phase. She sees a need for a special employment scheme for senior citizens to be created to assist them in generating income based on their health and fitness levels.

“In Japan, for example, the airport employees are mostly senior citizens who are given light duties such as handing out forms to travellers, showing directions and welcoming visitors. Similarly, Malaysia too can provide opportunities to this group to work for four to five hours a day, thus enabling them to earn a living. They can be given jobs as security guards in low-risk areas, toll collectors, and general workers in airports and public transportation terminals,” she added.

She said the provision of microcredit schemes with relaxed financing terms should also be considered to enable this group to embark on businesses, which will also help them to become more active and socialise with others, thus addressing the issue of loneliness among senior citizens.  

According to Zumilah, 90 percent of Malaysia’s elderly population are capable of being independent and managing their senior years well while only 10 percent require the aid given to them by JKM.

Meanwhile, Associate Prof Dr Rahimah Ibrahim, who is from UPM’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the Faculty of Human Ecology, observed that families with elderly parents to care for are at risk of becoming vulnerable.

“This is because they have to bear the expenses for long-term care of their (elderly) parents, more so if they are suffering from chronic diseases. I’ve also found that families caring for older people are from the lower-income group but are less likely to obtain financial aid from the government as they have at least one household member who is working,” she said.

Dr Rahimah Ibrahim.--BERNAMApic

She said many children are not ready to care for their aged parents due to a lack of financial literacy and preparation. There are children who have to reduce their work commitments or take time off or leave their jobs to care for their parents.

“When I met (some of) the caregivers (those looking after their aged parents), they said they were not ready, more so for those whose parents have chronic illnesses or cognitive disorders such as dementia.

“When someone has it (dementia), not only do they need medical treatments and medications, they also need other equipment like a hospital bed, tubes, diapers and milk supplies. All these expenses are unforeseen, so their caregivers have to spend a significant amount of money to get these things,” she said.

Rahimah also said family members who care for elderly persons with dementia, for example, are at risk of becoming the “invisible second patient” as the pressure of caring for the patient, insufficient funds, lack of support from other family members and physical stress can cause their own health to deteriorate.

She added that since Malaysia is set to become an ageing nation not long from now, the government needs to look into beefing up its elderly care services.

She suggested that elderly care centres be included in housing development plans.

“Besides having kindergartens, surau or schools near our homes, we also need day-care centres for senior citizens to be set up so that their children can send them there when they go to work,” she said, adding that recreational parks catering to all age groups must also be developed to enable senior citizens to engage in various activities.


Translated by Rema Nambiar





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