Older Indonesians were hit especially hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo by Destyan Sujarwoko for Antara.


In 2020, adults aged 60 and over comprised 10% of the population of Indonesia, equivalent to about 26.4 million people, and their numbers are expected to grow significantly by 2030 because of declining fertility, longevity, and better nutrition. Realising that Indonesia is now becoming an ageing society, the government has launched a national strategy to elevate the needs of older people to the forefront of national and subnational policy making.

The urgency of this policy shift became very clear as the Covid-19 pandemic and containment measures crippled the Indonesian economy and pushed millions of households into poverty. Older Indonesians, especially from low-income backgrounds, bore the brunt of massive disruption to delivery of health and social services. Many were not able to access support from caregivers and medical check-ups because of the large-scale social distancing restrictions.

This has had serious consequences. Those aged 65 and over are at higher risk of mortality and serious disease if they contract Covid-19 because of comorbidities (and about two-thirds of people over 70 have at least one underlying condition). Older people are also at a higher risk of social isolation, leading to declining health and poor quality of life.

A study by the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) and the Ministry of National Development and Planning (Bappenas) confirmed, for example, that older people in Yogyakarta, Bali, and Jakarta suffered more than younger groups. For example, the Covid-19 fatality rate among adults aged 60 years and over was 38.5% higher than for younger adults because of underlying medical conditions. On top of that, the study found that 50% experienced reduced income. Older women were already more likely to be poorer than older men in Indonesia. The pandemic has likely pushed many more into poverty.

In late November, the government responded to these disturbing developments by issuing Presidential Regulation No. 88 of 2021 on the National Ageing Strategy. This is an ambitious plan to develop “a silver economy”, and focuses on consumption, services, and productivity for older groups in a digital world. The strategy is based on five pillars: comprehensive social protection; better health and quality of life; supporting the development of an older people-friendly society and environment; institutional strengthening; and respect, protection, and fulfilment of older peoples’ rights.

This builds on existing work to support older people in Indonesia. At the national level, since 2017, the government has been targeting the poorest 10% of older people through its flagship conditional cash transfer program, the Older People Family Welfare Program (Program Keluarga Harapan Lansia). It has created a unified database to ensure the validity and eligibility of beneficiaries. To complement this initiative, a program to establish local health posts offering integrated health services targeting older people (Posyandu Lansia) is also underway nationwide.

Meanwhile, the National Population and Family Planning Agency (BKKBN) has developed a mobile application, GoLantang, comprising tips and health information, a health calculator feature, and a map service to locate nearby hospitals and nursing homes. The application can be used without internet access.

Local authorities are also mobilising resources to tackle food insecurity among senior citizens through various interventions. For example, in Banyuwangi District, East Java, there is an award-winning initiative funded by the district budget called Free Food with Love (Rantang Kasih), which distributes nutritious food to thousands of poor and isolated older people by engaging elements of the private sector, like Gojek and nearby food stalls.

Similarly, in Aceh Jaya District, Aceh, a universal pension scheme is being provided to all people aged 70 and over. An evaluation of the scheme, which provides every person over 70 with a cash transfer of Rp 200,000 per month, found that beneficiaries reported a greater sense of autonomy and dignity because they could contribute to household monetary resources.

The pandemic has hit older Indonesians hard. But it has also provided good reason for the government to step away from business as usual and reorientate policy so that it better addresses the needs of this vulnerable population group. When many ageing countries are still not prepared for the impact of demographic transition, it is encouraging that Indonesia is developing a far-sighted policy framework to address its “greying population”.

But the challenge is now to make sure these ambitious policies are actually implemented. Strong commitment, sustainable financing, and a robust monitoring system will be key to making sure the government actually delivers on its promises.

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