The government’s announcement of a Nu two billion social protection scheme aimed at benefiting all Bhutanese is a welcome initiative. It comes at a time when the formal pension system covers only a portion of the population.

The National Pension and Provident Fund’s schemes cover only about eight percent of the population: civil servants, employees of state-owned enterprises, corporations, and the armed forces. The majority is left to fend for themselves, especially the unemployed and the old.

Introduction of allowances and various pension schemes, contributory and non-contributory, could ensure some sort of security to the growing number of old people. This is becoming more relevant when priorities are changing, even at the cost of care for the old, including our own parents.

With economic pressure on children trying to eke out a livelihood, the risk of neglect of the old is higher. This is already evident in the form of the huge rural to urban migration where old parents are left alone in the villages or the increasing goongtongs (empty households). The old, forced to live in the towns to baby sit or deprived of care in the villages, need all security in their twilight years.

However, security through pension or provident funds needs to be expanded beyond the old. The government’s plan to make the social protection scheme a nationwide programme needs support. Thorough study and research to explore social security is a good start when the NPPF is being asked to do away with the pension scheme because of sustainability issues.

Today, the pension and provident schemes, those in the private and informal sector say, are biased towards the salaried, those with reliable income.  In other words, the rest are not considered even with labour laws mandating pension and provident schemes for firms employing more than 10 people.

Apart from a handful of firms, pension and provident schemes are almost absent. That is why a job in the government or public corporations are seen as a secure job with post retirement benefits. That is why the private sector, the so-called engine of growth, is not seeing growth as it is the last option.

The private sector needs policy intervention if they are to introduce such schemes. While experts could work on it, one way to encourage private employers to start pension or provident fund schemes could be making their side of the contribution tax deductible. This way, employers would be encouraged and employees would see some security in their jobs. Employee’s benefit and happiness, it is proven, is crucial in how a business succeeds.

Looking at our social security schemes, there is a huge gap. The old and the young, especially those in the private sector, feel neglected . This is dangerous as we are talking about two vulnerable groups.