India’s retirees tap savings, eat less as living costs soar

Gopal Krishna Agarwal, the BJP’s economic affairs spokesman, said the government was doing all it could to protect them, including through food and healthcare support.

It already provides free food grain to nearly 800 million people as a part of its pandemic relief programme.

Over the weekend the government announced tax changes and subsidies that will lower prices of gasoline, diesel and cooking gas.

But it is not clear how much relief that will bring. State pensions are just 200 Indian rupees (S$3.50) a month, although some states provide up to between 1,000-2,000 rupees monthly.

In the eastern city of Kolkata, Ms Gita Sen, a 70-year-old widow of a labourer, said she could not afford even two meals a day on her 1,000 rupee monthly pension.

“Often I have to borrow or beg neighbours for food,” she said in front of her rented one-room home in a slum.

Care crunch

Unlike advanced economies, India has very few aged-care homes. Most retirees depend on families for support, putting extra strain on children whose livelihoods have been impacted by the pandemic and now inflation.

There were just 1,100 old age homes across the country catering to about 100,000 people before Covid-19 struck, according to a study by Tata Trusts, the charitable arm of the Tata Group conglomerate.

Largely run on private donations, they face their own challenges as costs soar. Increases in food, medicine and energy costs mean these homes have less to spend on vegetables, fruit, drugs and care providers.

Mr Saurabh Bhagat, director at SHEOWS, a Delhi-based charity that runs three such homes catering to more than 400 people, said monthly expenses had recently gone up by nearly 20 per cent.

“We can’t think about buying fruit any more, and have cut down expenses on food supplements that is delaying the recovery of sick people at our old age homes,” Mr Bhagat said.

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