During the new coronavirus epidemic, 36% of the Brazilian elderly who still work have been left without any income, or have experienced significant reduction in their income. Among those without a formal job, this number is even higher: 55%. These are some of the conclusions of ConVid - Behavior Survey, coordinated by Fiocruz, which has been attempting to investigate how the Covid-19 has been affected the lives of Brazilians.
More than 45 thousand people took part in the survey, between April 24 and May 24, by answering an online questionnaire. The first results of the analysis have been made public and point to issues such as the increase in mental health issues in the population. The figures obtained during this first phase have been analyzed by the Health and Aging Information Group (Gise) of Fiocruz, which is now presenting some important points regarding people 60 years old and up. The elderly represent 20% of those who anwered the questionnaire.
Scientists mention, for instance, how high the percentage of elderly people who had paid jobs before the epidemic was: 52.3%. “It would not be correct, therefore, to state that the elderly are a dependent population. The latest census had already shown that the income of people 60 years old and older is essential for about half the income of Brazilian households”, alerts Dalia Romero, Gise coordinator and a member of the ConVid survey team.
In general, social security decreases with age: 42% of the elderly work but do not have formal jobs. Among women, this disadvantage is even higher: 49%, that is, one of every two elderly women who work does not have a formal job. Among men, this percentage is 37%.
“Not only are the elderly at a higher risk of Covid-19 itself, they are also at risk due to the weakening of social security in the stage of life during which they would need protection the most. The negative impact of the epidemic on household income will also affect the high proportion of households that depend on the workforce of the elderly”, the researcher explains.
Many in essential jobs
Romero defends that, in addition to strengthening the mechanisms of economic protection for the elderly, it is crucial to reinforce social isolation for the entire population, and not only for the so-called risk groups. “There must be social policies; the government cannot lose sight of the importance of combining the maintenance of social isolation and the guarantee of financial support, as many elderly are the breadwinners in their families. They cannot be forced to leave their homes, as this would mean sending them to their deaths, especially in cities such as Rio de Janeiro, with serious deficiencies when it comes to basic healthcare and social assistance”, she warns.
The percentage of elderly people working in jobs considered essential (healthcare, safety, transportation, banks etc) is 34% of all those who are working during the pandemic. Among women, this percentage is 37%.
As for the intensity of the restriction of contact with other people, the researchers have observed that, among the elderly, those who hold essential jobs have been practicing isolation less than the others: 42% of them have only reduced their social interactions slightly.
ConVid results have also shown that four out of every ten households have at least one elderly inhabitant. 18% of them live alone. “This means that the social isolation of everyone and the network of social assistance and basic healthcare are crucial to ensure the health of the entire poopulation. Taking care of the elderly means taking care of everyone, taking care of the country”, highlights Romero.
Caregivers are also vulnerable
In Brazil, caregivers for the elderly are also in a very vulnerable situation in this pandemic. According to the survey, in 56% of the households in which an elderly person lived and was assisted by a caregiver, the caregiver has continued to work during the pandemic. This percentage reaches 76% in households with a higher per capita income.
“Most of these caregivers are poor women and they have no formal work relationship. After work, they return to their own homes, in territories where conditions increase vulnerability”, emphasizes the Fiocruz researcher, stating that caregivers for the elderly are considered domestic workers and are therefore not acknowledged as an occupational category.
The researcher stats that about 500 thousand Brazilian households (8%) have an elderly person with a restriction of their everyday activities that needs help. In 28% of these cases, such help is provided by a caregiver. This brings together two “slices” of the population with great vulnerability in this pandemic: elderly people who often live alone and need help, and poor women who need to leave their homes and expose themselves in order to feed their families.
“Our public health system (SUS) is universal. Both the rich and the middle-class must also fight to make sure basic healthcare and family medicine access everyone. Poor women, many of them black, must be able to stay home and preserve their own lives. This requires efficient social assistance”, completes Dalia Romero.
The investigation was coordinated by the Institute of Scientific and Technological Communication and Information in Health (Icict/Fiocruz), in a partnership with the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) and the State University of Campinas (Unicamp). The ConVid sample was calibrated using figures from the National Survey of Sample per Household (Pnad, 2019), of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), to obtain the same distribution per state, gender, age group, race/ethnicity, and level of formal education in the Brazilian population. The survey is still ongoing.