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Clock Is Ticking: Why India Must Invest Heavily In Care?

According to the 'India Ageing Report 2023,' one-fifth of India's population will be over 60 by 2050, with an absolute total of 347 million

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In an era where discussions about economic growth often dominate the headlines, there exists a crucial yet often overlooked sector that holds the key to profound social and economic transformation, the care economy. At the intersection of demographics, gender dynamics and economic development, the care economy plays a critical role in shaping the future of societies across the globe.

Demographic trends, such as an ageing population are gradually reshaping the landscape of the labour market in Asia-Pacific countries. The ramifications of these shifts are far-reaching, with a recent Boston Consulting Group (BCG) report estimating that the region could lose a staggering USD 250 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) by the year 2035 if the challenges posed by the care economy are not addressed promptly.

According to the 'India Ageing Report 2023,' one-fifth of the nation's population will be over 60 by 2050, with an absolute total of 347 million. The report also estimated that by the end of the century, the elderly will account for more than 36 per cent of the overall population of the country.

The crux of the matter lies in the growing number of individuals who will be engaged in unpaid care work, providing care for family members, often at the expense of their own participation in the labour force. Without additional support to enhance their well-being and caregiving capabilities, this trend could lead to an exodus of carers from the workforce.

“In the event of failure to curtail this crisis, the country will have to bear great costs. Primarily, it will compel the working population to take leave and involve themselves in ensuring care. This obviously means that the country will have to engage its labour forces in unproductive work at the cost of economic production. This will hinder economic growth,” stated Tarun Sharma, Founder and CEO, Yodda Eldercare. 

The AVPN, along with the Social Investment Consultancy (TSIC) and 

International Development Research Centre (IDRC) produced a knowledge paper titled ‘Financing the Care Economy in the Global South: Investment Opportunities and Pathways’, which sheds light on the opportunities and barriers to channelling capital into the care economy, an endeavour that calls for urgent attention from all stakeholders.

Empowering women economically

The World Bank, in its assessment, has underscored the potential benefits of having more women in the labour force, suggesting that India alone could experience up to a 1 per cent boost in economic growth. However, a stark gender disparity exists in the realm of unpaid care work.

Women and girls bear a disproportionate burden, dedicating two to ten times more time to domestic chores and care activities than their male counterparts. Globally, women spend an average of 4.5 hours per day in these unpaid caregiving roles, which not only hinders their economic empowerment but also exacerbates the care crisis, the AVPN report stated.

Patricia Mathias, Director of the Gender Platform, AVPN stated, "The care economy presents vast and complex opportunities to create profound social and economic impact. Empowering women economically will ensure a thriving and sustainable economy. To achieve this, we must embrace innovative delivery models, including market-driven and blended solutions that bring together the public and private sectors."

The required investment

The International Labour Organisation's estimates indicate that an annual investment of USD 5.4 trillion by 2035 will be required to secure the labour market and address the impending care crisis in Asia. This colossal figure underscores the imperative for collaborative action among policymakers, private sector players, and investors.

The AVPN knowledge paper provides a roadmap for investors and policymakers in Asia to navigate the impending care crisis. It underscores the need for innovative care delivery models and emphasises the role of collaborative efforts to invest in India's care economy, with a vision of driving sustainable development.

The paper outlines three distinct pathways for investors to engage in the care economy: firstly, investing in tech-enabled care businesses; secondly, focusing on accessibility and affordability for marginalised communities; and thirdly, supporting carer-friendly enterprises while integrating a care lens into existing investments, with a particular focus on improving the lives of women and girls.

Reckoning the investment scenario, Sharma mentioned, “Investors are increasingly interested in the care sector, which includes healthcare, childcare, and eldercare, due to its potential for both financial and societal advantages. The Indian population is rapidly ageing, and the need for care services is likely to skyrocket in the future. Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists see this sector as a developing market as well. Aside from Indian government initiatives, MNCs and well-developed hospitals are investing in this field.”

Overcoming Challenges and Policy Initiatives

However, the path to unlocking the potential of the care economy is not without challenges. Investors face hurdles in identifying and evaluating opportunities due to limited information and understanding about the sector and its business models, the AVPN report added.

Commenting on the underlying policy over this, Sharma added, “Currently, India has implemented several policies and initiatives, like Ayushman Bharat, which provides financial protection for millions of vulnerable citizens' healthcare expenses, and the National Health Mission (NHM), which focuses on strengthening healthcare infrastructure and services, particularly in rural areas. Through its Seniorcare Ageing Growth Engine (SAGE) project, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment of the Indian government wants to make age-friendly products and services available to a wide number of senior citizens and their caregivers.”

Leveraging new technology and collaboration 

In a world where economic prosperity is often measured in terms of GDP figures, it is imperative that India recognise the crucial role played by the care economy.

“Collaboration and partnerships, including public-private partnerships and international organisations, are crucial for expanding healthcare infrastructure and improving care quality. Public-private partnerships and engagement with international organisations and NGOs can bring in much-needed funding and expertise to bolster India's healthcare ecosystem,” Sharma added. 

New-age technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), virtual reality (VR) and telemedicine have the potential to facilitate caregiving in the country.

Sharma expounded that AI and IoT can enhance healthcare delivery through predictive analytics, remote monitoring of patients, and efficient resource allocation. “Moreover, VR can facilitate remote medical training and improve patient engagement. These technologies can enable us to offer cost-effective solutions and improve healthcare outcomes,” he noted.

Meanwhile, the care economy has the power to transform societies, empower women, and secure our economic future.

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care economy demography new age technologies investment