What about the elderly?

The opposition says that many old people are “pressured” to continue working. The picture they paint is a bleak one: troops of our elderly are out in full force, working beyond their retirement years because they cannot afford to retire. Old ladies picking up cardboard boxes to sell.

Well, my friend told me that his grandma continues to work at McDonalds and if you dare ask her to stop working, you’ll get a tongue lashing. Same for some members in my family: they can work, they’re proud of it and they will verbally abuse you if you dare imply they should “retire”.

But here are other reasons why the elderly continue to work:

1.) They work because they want to work

2.) Some use it to fill time

3.) Some have genuine need as they didn’t save enough and/or their children don’t look after them

What we’re most concerned about is the 3rd group. What sort of programs are in place to help them. And why doesn’t the state do more for all the elderly in general, so we can retire and play chess everyday in our gardens.

Here are the community programs already in place that our elderly needy could tap on:

– ComCare (Financial assistance)
– Public Assistance Scheme (Cash grants, medical, education and financial assistance)
– Short-Term Financial Assistance Scheme (via NTUC Fairprice Food Vouchers)
– HOPE (Homeownership Plus, incentives to low-income families)
– Hardship Assistance Fund
– Work Support Program
– Lease Buyback Scheme (for low income elderly in 3-room or smaller flast to cash out part of money locked up in HDB for their old age)
– MCYS Transport Subsidy for Users of Day Care Centres for Seniors
– Caregivers Training Grant
– Eldercare Trust
– Interim Disability Program for the Elderly
– Home Care Assist Program
– Handicap Cab Scheme (for taxis)

Actually, there are 81 pages worth of welfare programs that cater to every level of society, see this document from the National Council of Social Services.

Here’s a question that must be asked: If Temasek Holdings and the Government Investment Company is making so much money, why doesn’t the state pay for more welfare?

Here’s the scoop:

a.) We have about $700b in our reserves, which is no small amount

b.) About 1/3 of Singaporeans actually pay income taxes. To supplement national expenditure, the country dedicates an (estimated) $7b from profit acquired by their investments. The rest of it is used to back our currency and insurance. Now, you buy insurance to hedge against a major illness. What is the country’s version of a major illness? Our money is also used to insure ourselves against a whole host of illnesse.

What are we so worried about? What are we insuring for? Here are some examples:

  • Capital and labour is highly mobile today – can we guarantee we’ll always continue attracting the best and brightest to continue to attract companies to invest/setup here?
  • In 2061, our water agreement ends – how much will the price of water be then? Can we guarantee that it will always be this low? No doubt we have New Water today, but what is the cost of energy against the cost of refining New Water?
  • Food security – this country doesn’t produce enough food; how can we guarantee that worldwide inflation does not affect our food supply badly?

This are just a few of the reasons why our sizable reserve stays largely untouched.

Now the Opposition keeps saying “Government got money, why don’t give out more? Subsidize more!” In a political point of view, it would be so easy to win an election just by giving out lots of subsidies, lots of freebies – the Singapore government indeed has the ability to do this for many elections to come. But is this a responsible thing to do?

We have been so successful as a nation because our politics is not normal. We’ve had the luxury of planning very, very far into the future. Most countries just plan for the next few years until their next election because they know they have a limited career and there is no guarantee they’ll be voted back in. They do not dare to make an electorate angry with unpopular policies.

I hope this sheds more light as to why we see the elderly working beyond their retirement years.

About the author

Benjamin Chiang

Benjamin Chiang is an enthusiast of good advertising, deep thinking, labour issues and chocolate. He writes also at www.rangosteen.com and occasionally on Yahoo!

The views expressed are his own.

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