Older people in Lebanon face desperate circumstances due to lack of basic social protection guarantees

I worked for 50 years in the orchards. My husband passed away when I was 30 years old, and I worked and raised our kids myself. I used to work to secure our livelihood, but I do not have any social security.”

Georgette, 81 years old

We were cautious throughout our life and did everything we were supposed to do, thinking this would allow us to rest in our old age… but we are not living the way we should be living as older people.”

Farah, 62 years old

Older people do not want to be dependent on others, they want a dignified life.”

Karim, 75 years old

BEIRUT (ILO News) – Lebanon’s older population faces a dire situation and an even more desperate future due to the lack of basic social protection guarantees in the country, HelpAge International and the International Labor Organization (ILO) said today as they published a new report giving voice to older people.

The report, titled “A Glimmer of Hope amidst the Pain,” portrays older people’s often desperate living conditions and their urgent need for social protection. It features the voices of Lebanon’s older women and men, sharing testimonials about the difficulties they face amidst an economic and financial crisis that has left them fragile and vulnerable, in the absence of a social protection floor. Older people are often left without enough money to pay rent or buy food, clothing and medicine.

“Older people have been hit hard by the crisis in Lebanon. Rising rates of poverty and unemployment across the country have made it increasingly difficult for most people to meet their basic needs, severely affecting the social and physical wellbeing of those in later life,” said Sarah Abu Taha, the Country Representative of HelpAge International.

With the collapse of the support and care systems that older persons had depended on in the past – whether through government programmes, the private sector, NGOs, or family networks – many are left without any source of income or are forced to work through old age.

“Pensions and other state benefits like social health protection are a right for all, enabling people to live their later years in security and dignity. But this is not the case in Lebanon, where social security benefits are only available to a privileged few,” said Luca Pellerano, the Regional Social Protection Specialist at the ILO.

Lebanon has been facing an unprecedented, compounded crisis since 2019 – encompassing the collapse of the economy and devaluation of the currency, the Covid-19 pandemic and the August 2020 Beirut Port explosion. The crisis put the existing social insurance and mutual funds at great risk. The limited number of retirees covered through these schemes have seen the value of their benefits and lifetime savings collapse.

The situation is much worse for the majority of older people who were not covered by any social or private insurance or mutual fund, and whose main channel of support was their children and families.

Lebanon has the highest proportion of older people in the Arab states, making up 11 percent of the country’s population, and living an average lifespan of 78 years for men and 82 years for women.

But Lebanon is falling behind many other countries in the region in providing social protection benefits to older persons. Around 80 percent of the country’s older population must depend on their families for financial support or rely on whatever savings they may have. Most older people do not receive any financial support from the state.

HelpAge and the ILO stress that a pension implemented on a non-contributory basis would guarantee income security for all older people in Lebanon. Of particular note, it would guarantee some measure of security in old age for workers in the informal sectors, who made up 50 percent of the workforce in 2018. It would also guarantee a dignified life for thousands of women who have never participated in the labour market, breaking the lifelong cycle of inequity and discrimination they face by recognising their unpaid contributions to their households and society.

The establishment of such a scheme has become more necessary than ever and should go hand-in-hand with the reform of the End-of-Service Indemnity scheme at the National Social Security Fund into a pension scheme for private sector workers, providing regular payments indexed to inflation throughout retirement.

Testimonials from older persons

The report draws on the testimonials of 32 older people from different social backgrounds. It features 24 Lebanese nationals and eight Syrian refugees, and includes 18 women and 14 men. Their ages range from 59 to 88 and included people from Beirut, the South of Lebanon and the Bekaa valley.

The older people featured in the report convey the struggles they face because of the lack of a social protection system. They also share their hopes that they might one day witness the implementation of a social pension scheme in line with the country’s current capacities, similar to what is provided in many similar low- and middle-income countries.

The report also presents the participants’ outlook on access to health services, and the impact the country’s crisis has had on the availability of services and resources, including medicine. It also sheds light on the suffering of older Syrians living in Lebanon in terms of income security, health coverage, navigating crises, and decreasing international aid.

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