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Norway Ranked Best for Older People

In this Tuesday, June 17, 2014 photo, George Jackson, 85, an army veteran and former boxer participates at a parkour class for elderly people at a park in south London. 'I just sometimes forget how old I am and that I can’t do certain things', said Jackson, the class’ oldest participant. The unique weekly class for people over 60 called parkour, a flashy discipline usually known for its acrobatic running, climbing and gravity-defying jumps. He said he struggles with a swollen ankle and knee but that the class has helped. 'I was limping around before and now I can walk straight,' Jackson said. 'But I still don’t plan to jump off of anything higher than a bench'.(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Norway tops the list of countries that offers the best social policies for people over 60. Afghanistan is rated the worst. The rankings appear in the new Global Age Watch Index. Help Age International published the index of 96 countries that are home to 790 million people 60 and older.

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Chief Executive Officer Toby Porter said, “For too long, older people have been excluded from international and national development planning.” He blamed much of that on – what he calls – “exceptionally poor data” on older people.

“We have a world which is ageing fast. And what the index does is compares and ranks countries from best to worst countries in the world to grow old,” he said.

The Global Age Watch Index rates countries in four categories.

“Health, income, what we call capability - ability to carry on contributing employment. And then the final one about enabling environment – what do older people think about the environment that they live in.”

Porter said that many older people are not financially secure.

“The focus on the report this year is on pensions – on retirement income that older men and women can expect.”

The index reports only one in four older people over 65 in low and middle income countries have any kind of retirement saving. Help Age lists the best pension system as a universal basic payment that is available to everyone once they are old enough.

Norway gets the highest ranking in the index. Rounding out the top 10 are Sweden, Switzerland, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Iceland, the United States, Japan and New Zealand. Afghanistan is at the bottom of the list following many years of conflict.

There are 10 African countries on the index – all near the bottom. South Africa ranks the highest among them at 80. However, Porter said South Africa is doing some positive things.

“South Africa has introduced and continues to support and grow a basic universal pension entitlement for all of her older population. And this is terrific. And we’ve seen some very encouraging public statements from President Zuma and from other senior politicians in South Africa that they recognize the contribution and the importance of supporting their older population. South Africa is actually showing a really good model to the rest of the continent that it is possible to introduce pensions,” he said.

South Africa is one the so-called BRICS nations – countries with strong emerging economies. Other members include Brazil, ranked 58 – Russia, ranked 65 – India, 69 and China, 48.

Porter said, “A lot of the impetus behind China introducing pension provision for all of her older citizens was to provide an incentive for them to start using their purchasing power earlier in their lives in spending money rather than saving it for a pension.”

The African countries of Ghana, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique all rank below South Africa on the Global Age Watch Index. In fact, Mozambique is just above Afghanistan on the list.

HelpAge International recommended African nations begin providing pensions when people turn 60. However, if countries are poor, it said they might not be able to institute a pension system to every eligible person at once – or they could require a higher eligibility age for a time.

Another factor is Africa’s youth population, which is much greater than most parts of the world. Therefore, governments are already hard pressed to provide education and jobs. Porter said foresight is needed.

“Let’s not make this a competition between generations. Firstly, in an individual’s lifetime he or she is going to be a youth and an older person. We know many instances whereby older people receiving pensions have allowed children in poor and marginalized households to go to school.”

HelpAge reported the cost of pensions is “much less than often assumed.” It cites research in 50 countries that found that “the cost of a universal pension -- for all people over 65 at 20 per cent of average income -- would range from less than half a percent of Gross Domestic Product in Burkina Faso to 1.8 percent in China.”

Some pensions may not amount to much money, but HelpAge said it can offer some independence and enough to buy essentials, like medicine.