SA: ageing population a challenge

South Africa recognises the difficulties created by its ageing population, a KPMG Survey released on Thursday has found. 

"While many public sector organisations in some of the world's key economies are not making adequate preparations to deal with the impact of ageing populations on public services and the working environment, South Africa is playing a leading role in bucking the trend," KPMG said. 

The study, which drew on responses from over 800 public sector employees in Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Singapore, South Africa, the UK and the US, found public servants in the UK, Germany and the US did not believe their organisations were taking adequate steps to cope with an older population. 

"Only 21% of respondents in the UK, 26% in Germany and 28 % in the US could confirm that their organisations were planning for the needs of increasing numbers of older people." 

This compared with 37% in Canada, 55% in South Africa and 62%in Singapore. 

Improvements in health care, diet

Trends had shown for some years that improvements in health care and diet had extended life expectancy in most developed economies, while there had been a simultaneous decline in fertility rates, KPMG said. 

This had led many population specialists to predict a worldwide increase in the number of retired elderly people, and a decline in the number of working-age people able to support them. 

According to the study, population figures showed that in most developed economies there were around four working people for every person over 65. 

But official forecasts predicted that by 2050, in Australia, Canada, Germany and the UK, that ratio would be around two to one. 

"In South Africa, the ratio is expected to move from 10 working people to one elderly person today, to five to one by 2050," KPMG said. 

In Singapore, it would move from 10 to one to four workers for every three elderly people. "These figures show why Singapore and South Africa are taking this matter so seriously," Mick Allworth, partner and member of KPMG's Global Government Steering Group said. 

"In Singapore, the proportion of the population made up of elderly people needing support will increase enormously. 

"In South Africa, the increase will not be as great, but South Africa has only around one eighth of the GDP [gross domestic product] per head of population of the other countries in this study." 

Ageing populations a challenge

He said that in both cases, resources per elderly person would be scarce, so preparations needed to be made now. "But this does not mean that the other countries can relax. 

"Over 60% of the respondents to our survey said that ageing populations pose a significant challenge for the services their organisation offer," he said.  

Tshidi Mokgabudi, executive director of Public Sector and Infrastructure at KPMG in South Africa, said "housing, health care and social services will all be affected, and they all need to develop plans to address the trends identified by the survey". 

Public service organisations were also likely to be affected as their workforces grow older. According to the study, eight out of ten respondents from Canada and Singapore saw an ageing public sector workforce as a significant challenge, compared with 73% in Australia, and around 70% in Germany and South Africa. 

But only 50% in the US saw this as an issue, and less than half in the UK and the Netherlands. "This vote of confidence in the Dutch and British service providers may be due to efforts that have been made to build better working practices." - (Sapa, January 2010)

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