Happy New Year – Let Old People Look After Themselves

Here are 2 questions that almost always will be answered the same way:

Question = “What do you know about your pension?”

Answer = “I don’t really know…”

Question = “How many times have you looked after somebody older than 75 years?”

Answer = “Never… but my parents did…”

The two questions actually explain why paid-out pensions are so low, and why nursing homes for the elderly are seeing the following poor standard of care as described recently by a Geriatric Professor and former Director of Elderly Care at one of Finland’s largest cities:

  1. Many malfunctioning units are understaffed. 
  2. Nursing home residents are locked in their rooms for the night against their will. 
  3. The elderly are cared for in Beds because the nurses were not able to help them up. 
  4. Many nursing homes also have problems with medication.

Pensions are controlled by a small group of business leaders, politicians, and union members who manage to pay themselves excellent benefits and maintain a costly oligopoly of a few separate private pension funds that are nothing near to being cost efficient. These private companies are rather simple investors and their activities could easily be merged into one of the big public pension funds with huge cost savings. The reduction in costs would bring a significant increase in pension payments to pensioners now and in the future. 

In both the private and public sectors throughout Finland many pensioners are not guaranteed the standard of care that they might have expected because the main political parties only see older folk as problems because the costs of care and pensions are increasing all the time. 

Discussion and debate about the pension system is not encouraged because of vested interests of those working and benefiting from directly from the current system. The owners of the biggest media companies are also part of this network and their journalists seldom comment on the flaws of the system. On the other hand the pension companies pay for “independent international reviews” from consultants who write glowing reports on how our pension system is exceptional. These reports get reported each year to reinforce that the companies are doing a great job.

Discussion and debate about costs and standards of care of elderly are also not encouraged in the media because they are seen as negative for the political parties. They would rather paint a “rosey” picture and make “nice” promises rather than grab the bull by the horns. Caring for the elderly is expensive because they have higher rates of serious illness and infirmities that require expensive treatment compared to younger voters. Improved efficiencies in preventive medicine and in healthcare can bring huge improvements. This can best be done by reducing the number fo municipalities in Finland and forcing them to work together. Central government control is also possible but this is a clumsy approach because central planning for local services is always going to be demanding.

Both pensions and care of the elderly are basic services and public goods. We all need them like education and roads, and they should be made available in the most cost-efficient manner while guaranteeing a good standard of care.

Every Finn should be seeing at last once a year what his or her pension will be paying out when the reach retirement age. They should also be receiving reliable information about how buying or renting a home will affect their lives after retirement. They should also be encouraged to save safely and profitably from an independent and cost efficient source and not from banks and insurance companies that offer expensive and risky solutions.

At the same time younger people should be encouraged to visit nursing homes and see for themselves what it is like rather than having these homes hidden away in some corner of town. 

Getting old is the inevitable fate of all of us. When you are old and bed-ridden try getting a better nursing home; or try calling your MP when you have no phone; or try calling when your fingers are too cramped to use the phone… You will not receive much support especially when the door is closed and locked, and especially if the nurse does not like to hear your complaints… Privatising nursing homes and selling them off to private equity investors is not the solution. It is not possible to reconcile profits and long-term care of the elderly with taxes. Private nursing homes work fine if the pensioners can afford to pay up but they are few and far between. Naturally right-wing political parties see them as the holy grail because that is where they get their political funding from the lobby…   

… and for the record, you will receive between 40% and 60% of your last salary as a pension, and much less if you took time off to look after the children for more than 3 years. 

The brave new world demands change and that change is still not happening.

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