NDA Findings 5

Ageing, poverty and neoliberalism in urban South India

Penny Vera-Sanso, Birkbeck College, University of London

Finding Synopsis

Using the example of the metropolitan city of Chennai, India, the research examined the forces and processes shaping poverty and ageing in developing country cities under neoliberal policy regimes. Comparing the circumstances of Chennai’s poor in 2007–2010 with that in 1990–1991, the research suggests that the neoliberal policy context exacerbated the difficulties of the poor and of the older poor in particular. It found that older people play a significant productive role in the urban economy but that this role is unrecognised by the state. Instead of facilitating work in old age, or providing pensions for anything more than a minority of the older urban poor, state policies reflect the assumptions that older people are dependent and that families provide for their aged. This approach does not take into account the impact of poverty, neoliberal policies and economic planning in constraining younger people’s capacity to provide or care for the aged; instead of ‘retiring’ from work, the urban poor are forced to work deep into old age, both to support themselves and to help out younger relatives. They may do this through paid work or through unpaid work in a family business or by taking on the domestic and childcare work of younger women, thereby releasing younger women into the labour market. The state’s failure to recognise older people’s contribution to the economy, their needs as workers and their rights as citizens constrains their productivity and wellbeing and has a knock-on effect on their families and the economy.

Penny Vera-Sanso, Birkbeck College

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