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The elderly are increasingly bearing the burden of supporting their families, with more than one-fifth of SA’s households headed by people older than 60, the SA Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) has found.
Almost 21 percent – 2.9 million – of all households in SA are headed by older persons (those over 60), with the highest proportion of such households in the Eastern Cape, the institute said on Thursday.
“Over 60s increasingly have to provide care and support in households because families have become disjoined,” said SAIRR researcher Thuthukani Ndebele, adding that the migration of working-age people from rural provinces, as well as poverty and HIV/Aids, was contributing to this trend. The institute used data sourced from Statistics SA and the Institute for Futures Research for its findings.
The research found Gauteng had the lowest proportion of households headed by over-60s, with Stats SA putting this down to the high migration of young people into the province. Out of a total of 2 925 000 households headed by over 60s, 486 213 were in the Eastern Cape, representing 27.3 percent of all the households in the province.
Northern Cape, with 76 800 (24 percent of households in the province), has the second-highest proportion of such households, followed by North West, with 225 860 (23 percent) of households headed by over 60s. In fourth place, proportionally, is the Western Cape, with 337 040 (22 percent). In fifth place is Limpopo, with 302 498 (21.7 percent), followed by KwaZulu-Natal with 572 232 (21.1 percent), Free State with 170 805 households (19.3 percent), Mpumalanga with 175 595 (17.3 percent) and Gauteng with 578 388 (15.7 percent).
Ndebele said in an interview the findings were significant in light of the fact that people older than 60 comprise just 7 to 8 percent of SA’s population.
“You would expect older people to be the ones who are being taken care of – but as it turns out, there is an increase in the number of older people who are having to head up households as a result of a range of issues,” he said.
Among the reasons cited for the figures were the effects of HIV and the increased migration of people from rural provinces like the Eastern Cape in search of work and other opportunities.
“HIV affects younger people – resulting in older people having to increasingly play a more active role in running households.”
Ndebele said the SAIRR had done the research to gain insight into the increased role of older people in the context of the wider social problems facing SA.
“Older people are increasing in proportion to the rest of the population. We are heading to a situation of population ageing, where more than 7 percent of the population is aged over 65. Such a situation has an impact on the welfare system in terms of people needing old-age pensions,” he said.
“Older people are having to take an increasing and more active role in dealing with the wider social problems in society. Their increased responsibilities impact on their lives and on the system.”
Senior researcher at the Children’s Institute at UCT, Katharine Hall, said many children were living in vulnerable households with elderly people bearing a large burden of care.
“Almost 20 percent of children in this country do not live with their mothers, although their mothers are alive,” Hall said.
The high number of older-headed households was a result of the migrant system created by apartheid, she said.
“These older people are often looking after children of working-age people. They face a number of challenges, particularly in rural parts of SA which are poorly serviced.”
A further challenge for older-headed households was the decline in the rate at which people sent money home, due to high unemployment and the soaring cost of living in cities. Social grants aimed at assisting people who were too old or too young to work or who were disabled, while targeted for individuals, were supporting entire households, Hall added.
“An important policy question that arises now is about income support for children of caregivers who are not their parents – do those grandparents access foster care grants for their grandchildren or do they access the much lower child support grant – or should there be some grant in between, something like a kinship care grant.
“This is a policy question which is currently being researched with a view to revising the Children’s Act to clarify the position.”