Better pension payment system needed in 2021

Dear Editor,
We must all advocate for the effective inclusion of our elderly citizens and pensioners in preparedness planning and ongoing responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in the context of pension payments for 2021 and onward. The PPP/C Administration kept its promise to our pensioners by increasing pension to $25,000.
COVID-19 pandemic poses a significant risk to elderly persons. Due to their reduced immunity and the increased likelihood of pre-existing chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart diseases and cancers, the infection can lead to severe complications, and even death. It is vital that precautions are taken to minimise the risk of transmitting infection to our elderly persons when they are collecting pensions. Pay points, where our pensioners collect pensions or other cash payments, pose a significant risk of exposure to the virus, as these locations may be crowded and visited by many other different persons doing business other than collecting pensions, who could have the infection, as many continue to disregard the COVID-19 guidelines, disrespect and mistreat our elderly at these locations.
Pension payment agencies, alongside community leaders, our Government and commercial partners, need to take steps to protect our elderly persons at pay points, and to provide additional guidelines to encourage behavioural changes among the people who visit them. This requires an appropriate and coordinated response in consultation with our elderly and community leaders – who can provide input on how to reach older people across different contexts, and in line with basic human rights.
Administering pension payments during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 will continue to be a challenge.
Payment agencies can take a range of steps to avoid older people’s potential exposure to the virus at pay points, ensuring they are paid first; are in physical contact with fewer people, and are provided with information on COVID-19.
There are several measures already in place that stagger payment days to prevent large groups of people from congregating. Older people should be allowed early morning access to pay points, and should be prioritised over the general population that is also waiting in line for cash transfer payments.
Alternatively, consider having dedicated dates for paying only older persons. On those particular days, other persons who collect cash transfers should be made aware of the schedule, so they do not go to these locations.
If possible, we can pay pensions less frequently, such as perhaps every two or three months. This should be the full amount for the combined payment period in advance, rather than delaying the combined payment.
Where payments are collected at retail merchants, banks, and other outlets where large numbers of people congregate, reach out to retailers to develop appropriate plans to manage payments and limit physical contact in these areas.
Regular communication with the public and at-risk populations is one of the most important steps to help prevent infections, save lives, and minimise adverse outcomes from COVID-19 with reference to older persons.
Pension providers are in a good position to share public health information, but they should take these considerations into account. Information, education and communication materials on the virus should be shared at all pension pay points, and where possible, health workers or trained volunteers should be on-site to share information and answer questions.
Despite media outreach, confusion about new processes is still likely, particularly in hard-to-reach rural communities. Staff need to be available outside retailers and pay points to explain the process to those who have concerns.
We must brief community leaders and committees on pension payment arrangements, and organise community health and social workers to share information with all households, particularly in rural settings.
It is important to generate a list of households where older people live, either from pension databases or via community identification. These houses could be targeted in information-sharing campaigns. Our older citizens must not be stigmatised or discriminated against. All engagement campaigns should include specific measures to reach older people, with practical information to reduce their exposure to the virus. We must remember they are more likely to have low literacy levels, physical or sensory disabilities that prevent them from accessing information or participating in community life, and be less likely to be exposed to mainstream media.
However, with all this being said, our Government must start exploring electronic pension payment systems for the future, as these can eliminate the need for older people to attend pay points, and therefore reduce the risk of exposing them in the future to COVID-19. Cash cards, mobile-based e-wallets or payments collected at retail merchants are all potential options, depending on the context and capacity.

David Adams