Senior citizens no longer have to endure long lines, or risk having their pension cheques lost or stolen as they can now use their ATM debit cards to access those funds, Minister of the People and Social Development Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh said yesterday.
At the ministry's launch of a senior citizens' direct deposit initiative at the Hyatt Regency, Port-of-Spain, Ramadharsingh said there have several reports of the elderly being robbed of their pensions, as well as instances where their cheques were lost in the mail.
He added: "Senior citizens are easy prey and this social issue must be addressed swiftly and vehemently. We as a society must take a proactive approach to the physical and psycho-social abuse senior citizens are faced with on a daily basis."
The minister said the direct deposit system, which took about 18 months to get off the ground, allows senior citizens direct access to their pension funds as the money would be deposited to their bank accounts. The initiative took effect from January 1.
Ramadharsingh said although it was met with reluctance by some, more than 50 per cent of the elderly population –about 40,000 people – already were using the new system. He said a biometric card system, which would be introduced soon, will allow senior citizens access to all their social benefits. That, he said, would significantly reduce incidents of fraud and provide a more secure system for the socially vulnerable.
The card is before the Tenders Board and should be on stream by May 13. It will have electronic features to allow for monitoring of trends and the shopping styles of senior citizens. Ramadharsingh said each card would have selected fingerprints of its owner, which would only be known to the owner. Vijay Gangapersad, director of Social Welfare, said disability grants and public assistance would be available soon through these initiatives.
When asked the cost of the biometric card initiative, he said: "We do not have a figure as yet because it is still in the development stage. We have just completed the technical phase and are about to embark on the financial aspect of it. These two phases should be completed by February month end."
Ramadharsingh said Government had spent $2,201,053,885.36 under the senior citizens' pension fund since late 2012 when it was increased to $3,000 a month for people 60 years and over. An additional 6,134 people benefited from the initiative between October 2011 and July 2012 at an estimated cost of 86,751,470.10.
Ramadharsingh said the ministry would continue to focus on the ageing population, which seems to be growing rapidly. There are more than 178,000 people in T&T over the age of 65 and the United Nations estimates that by 2025 there will be more than 1.2 billion people in the world over the age of 65, Ramadharsingh said. "We will continue to implement policies and promote the well being of the elderly and provide opportunities for integration," he added.