The Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit of the Government of the Republic of Serbia has published the analysis “Status of Vulnerable Groups in the Process of Accession of the Republic of Serbia to the European Union – Status of the Elderly Population”.
The publication was drafted as part of an initiative for drafting an analytical review on the status of vulnerable groups in the context of EU accession started by the Unit with the following objectives:
- To increase the visibility of the challenges faced by vulnerable social groups in the Republic of Serbia;
- To inform stakeholders on current processes in the development of the strategic and legislative framework in the field of social inclusion;
- To promote a dialogue and cooperation in meeting the obligations under the process of Serbia’s accession to the EU in the field of social inclusion.
The series of informative analytical situation overviews on the status of vulnerable groups in the context of meeting the obligations in the process of European integration is intended for a broad circle of stakeholders: decision makers, state administration and staff in local self-government units, development partners, civil society organisations, the academic community, and journalists.
The situation overview covers the following vulnerable groups: Roma, persons with disabilities, LGBTI, women, children, the elderly, youth, national minorities, migrants and asylum seekers, persons living with HIV. The fifth analysis is related to the status of the elderly population in the process of European integration.
The content of the analysis “Status of Vulnerable Groups in the Process of Accession of the Republic of Serbia to the European Union – Status of the Elderly Population” provides a broad analytical reflection on the status of the elderly population from the aspect of compliance with obligations under the process of the accession of the Republic of Serbia to the European Union (EU). The first part of the study presents information on the status of elderly persons in the process of Serbia’s accession to the EU by noting the demographic picture of the Republic of Serbia during recent years and information on average age, share of the over-65 population, and the value of the Ageing Index. Furthermore, it notes ageing as a topic in the European Union (EU) and projections at the level of EU member states.
The second part of the study reflects on the socio-economic status of elderly persons in Serbia through their material living conditions, housing conditions, access to the healthcare and social welfare system, and provides an overview of the occurrence of discrimination, abuse, and violence against elderly persons. The next segment deals with the legislative and strategic framework of the Republic of Serbia in the domain of protection and regulation of the rights of the elderly population. The next part of the analysis is an overview of the situation and obligations in the process of European Union accession, leading to clear conclusions and key recommendations for improving the status of the elderly in the Republic of Serbia (RS).
The most important findings of the brief analysis note that the demographic picture of RS during recent years is characterised by an ageing population, with a constant increase in the share of elderly (65+) and decrease in the share of youth (up to 15). The average age in RS has increased during the past five-year period from 42.9 (2016) to 43.4 (2020). The fact that the population of RS is ageing is also indicated by the values of the Ageing Index, with its value increasing from 139.5 in 2016 to 144.1 in 2020. In EU-27 in 2020 there were 91.9 million persons older than 65 years of age, i.e. one fifth (20.6%) of the total population. Projections indicate that during the coming 30 years the number of elderly in the EU will be constantly increasing, as it will in Serbia, and by 2050 it will reach 29.5%, and by 2060 a total of 30.3% of the population will be older than 65 years of age.
Regarding the socio-economic status of the elderly population in Serbia it was noted that regarding economic activities and material living conditions of the elderly extended activity and movement of the age limit for retirement is characterising contemporary policies in countries from the territory of the EU. According to data from the Labour Force Survey (LFS), the employment rate for the population aged 65 and over in 2020 was 11.8%. Pension is the basic financial pillar of welfare in old age. According to data by the Republic Fund for Pension and Disability Insurance (PIO Fun), in December 2020 a total of 887,290 persons (52.5%) received pensions under RSD 25,000, and as many as 104,093 persons (6.2%) pensions under RSD 10,000.
Regarding housing, the results of the Survey on Income and Living Conditions indicate that Serbia has a high percentage of the population living under conditions of housing deprivation according to EU criteria. However, elderly persons in Serbia are more exposed to the issue of housing deprivation than the average for EU-27, where the housing deprivation rate was 1.6%. The burden of housing costs represented another important aspect of the living standard. The average rate of overload by housing costs in Serbia in 2019 was 21.6%. At the same time, 20% of persons older than 65 were overloaded by this type of cost.
Data from the survey on health and healthcare indicates that the share of persons with long-term health issues among persons older than 65 years in 2019 was 69.3%. The subjective assessment of the health status differs based on age. As many as 64.1% of persons older than 85 assessed their health as “very poor and poor”. Regarding healthcare, 13.5% of those older than 65 years of age in 2019 did not secure a health examination or necessary treatment during the past 12 months.
Regarding social welfare as one of the pillars of support for decent living, according to data from the Republic Institute for Social Welfare (RZSZ), 18% of beneficiaries on the records of social work centres (SWC) in 2020 were older than 65. In December 2020 the right to financial social assistance (FSA) was used by 90,028 families, i.e. 218,166 persons. Of this number, 7.5% were elderly persons. The available housing capacities in institutions for the accommodation of adults and elderly is 17,868 beneficiaries, sufficient to provide housing for 1.2% of elderly citizens of the Republic of Serbia. The average capacity use of all dormitories for adults and elderly in 2020 was 77%.
Regarding services for long-term care for the elderly in Serbia, data indicates it is fragmented and spread out between the social welfare, healthcare and pension insurance systems to the extent it may be claimed that a long-term care system in fact does not exist as such, instead there are elements of it in these three systems.
Regarding abuse and violence against elderly persons, different types of abuse can be recognised: physical, psychological, financial, and sexual abuse and neglect. SWCs have registered 36,656 reports of domestic violence in 2020. Elderly persons are victims in 12.15% of cases of reports of violence. Abuse of elderly persons is often preceded by discrimination of the elderly, i.e. so-called ageism. According to data from the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality from 2020, age as grounds for discrimination has been one of the most frequent grounds for discrimination by frequency of occurrence in complaints for years. In 2020 the greatest number of complaints were filed due to discrimination of persons older than 65 years of age.
The legislative framework of RS consists primarily by the Law on Social Welfare, Law on Healthcare, Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination, Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence, Family Law and Criminal Law. Strategically, a number of strategies adopted during the recent period, the past ten to fifteen years, established indirectly and directly the protection from violence for the elderly and improvement of their status as a whole. However, after their expiry the RS did not adopt many new strategies that would define directions for development in these areas. This year (2021) a new Strategy for Preventing and Combating Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence 2021-2025 was adopted, recognising elderly women as a particularly vulnerable category, along with the Programme for the Protection of Mental Health in the Republic of Serbia 2019-2026.
Regarding obligations in the process of RS’s accession to the EU, as EU is facing the challenge of demographic ageing, it has a strong impact on its main strategies, such as the EU 2020 Strategy and European Pillar of Social Rights. The European Pillar of social Rights and other EU initiatives for active ageing represent the so-called soft acquis, i.e. they are not legislative activities that require harmonisation through the process of accession negotiations. One structural reform under the Economic Reform Programme (ERP) of RS for 2021-203 is the Improvement of the Adequacy, Quality and Targeting of Social Welfare Measures involving the establishment of a unified Social Cards Registers, that will provide an overview of the social and material status of beneficiaries. The Law on Social Cards and Rulebook on further technical conditions for establishing and maintaining Social Cards have been adopted in 2021 for implementing the above structural reform. The Action Plan (AP) for chapter 19 – Social Policy and Employment, adopted by the Republic of Serbia in 2020, envisages the adoption of a Strategy for the Development of Social Welfare in the Republic of Serbia, while the objectives of drafting the new Strategy of Deinstitutionalisation and Development of Community-Based Services are the creation of conditions for the development of sustainable and appropriate alternative community-based services for the elderly. The European Commission Progress Report for the Republic of Serbia on the EU accession process for 2021, just as the previous edition, states that elderly women, impoverished women, Roma women, women with disabilities, refugees and internally displaced women, still face various forms of discrimination.
The main conclusions and recommendations indicate that RS should, to the extent possible, join EU initiatives in caring for members of the elderly population and combating ageism. It is necessary to return to the initiative of the Madrid international action plan on ageing, and give particular attention to the impact on the elderly when planning and adopting public policy documents, through the analysis of social impact. A change is necessary in value patterns, the ways elderly persons are perceived. It is also necessary to plan the drafting and adoption of a new Ageing Strategy that would comprehensively approach the comparison of various aspects of the lives of elderly persons. It is necessary to establish a consistent and effective system of long-term care, to ensure systematic insights into the availability, spatial distribution and content of palliative care services across the Republic of Serbia, and define measures for the further development of the palliative care system. It is necessary to increase the diversity of social services for the elderly.