Speech by Henry Kwek (Nee Soon GRC)
Closing Speech on Motion on Seniors’ Policy
1. It’s close to 8pm. We have worked hard, and deserve to be tired.
2. But fatigue aside, hearing the insights from my colleagues and the front-bench, have reminded me why parliament inspires.
a. Here in parliament, our members serve as public intellectuals, crowdsourcing and distilled ideas from the whole of Singapore.
b. And these ideas are robustly debate in this chamber.
c. The scale and scope of the ideas can only be described as breath-taking.
3. I would also like to put on record my thanks to you, Mr. Speaker, Sir.
a. In your role as the new Chairperson of PAP.SG, you have encouraged us to make this motion happen, regardless of the obstacles.
b. I think my colleagues have assembled a nice collection of new ideas today to show for it.
4. So let me describe the collective beliefs of our members who spoke today. (Pause)
The Primacy of Individual and Familial Responsibilities
5. Aging is a universal condition affecting all of us. Therefore, the members of this house believes that dealing with aging starts with ourselves.
a. Cheryl called for seniors to cultivate the “undefeated mind”, one filled with hope, will and imagination.
b. Cheryl and Lily pointed out that we are personally responsible for our health. Otherwise, we will not enjoy our long life.
c. Yong Yong cautioned us to be wise in our estate planning. Better for our seniors to make wills, and therefore have more control over the financial arrangements, rather than make gifts to children.
d. At the same time, we must plan for unexpected situations, and that’s why Cheryl encourages seniors over 55 to do up a LPA.
6. Many of my colleagues also believe that after the individual, the next line of responsibility lies clearly with families.
a. Both Rahayu and Yong Yong suggests that the Tribunal for Maintenance of Family can do more, and move into education and counselling, as well as to be more bold in enforcements.
b. Yong Yong also came up with an excellent idea, which is to make children who benefit from transfer of property responsible for their parent’s well-being.
7. But as Yong Yong said, while the government can work harder to ensure that families step up, we however “do not and must not abrogate the basic human values of filial piety.”
a. After all, one can’t legislate filial piety. We must be filial, however, because, as Dr Intan mention, “it is the right thing to do”.
b. As Heng Leung shared, being a dutiful caregivers to our parents is not just a responsibility, but also one that we can derive joy from.
i. Helping our ailing parents is an intimate process.
ii. It promise the possibilities of transforming and deepening our precious relationship with those closest to us.
c. Therefore, Thiam Poh, Intan and Rahayu calls for all of us – government, society, community – to do what is necessary to promote the right values of filial piety.
d. I fully concur. Just this year, at my constituency we started teaching filial piety through Confucian Dizi Gui classes. I look forward to encourage similar classes through other cultural lens.
More Support for Caregivers
8. Today, we also discussed about more support for caregivers.
a. Joan, Heng Leung and myself spoke about caregiver leave, so that our seniors will not be facing the trauma of sickness and hospital visits alone. This will also provide some comfort to our caregivers.
b. Heng Leung also suggested more tax relief for caregivers. Cheryl suggested more generous subsidies for caregivers services, especially for to those who do not have alternative caregiver options.
The Digital Divide, Senior Housing and Monetisation of Assets
9. We must ensure that seniors are on the right side of the digital divide.
a. Pei Ling mentioned that we should strive to ensure that both “hardware and heartware are elderly friendly”. We are not just speaking about technology, but processes as well.
b. I would add, a smart nation will not leave its wisest residents behind.
c. Joan and Pei Ling Tap on the possibilities of digital eldercare, and calls for the government limit the downside of embracing everything digital to our seniors.
10. We also spoke about senior housing and monetisation of assets.
a. Lily and Pei Ling spoke about encouraging and teaching good design, building housing close to necessary amenities, so that our seniors can stay independent as long as possible. Cheryl suggested auditing all towns for such.
b. Rahayu and Yong Yong spoke about encouraging more reverse mortgage, and extending it beyond 4-Room HDB flat. I also spoke about changing regulations to encourage more privately developed assisted living and nursing home, as well as catalysing reverse mortgage for private estates.
Fine-tuning Financial Assistance
11. On the financial side, our speakers have acknowledge that our government has done much. But there’s always room to do more, especially if we can continue to grow our Singapore economy and keep medical cost under control.
a. The first line of financial support is actually for our seniors to stay employed and self-reliant.
b. In terms of senior employability, Lily asked for Singapore to close the gaps with the leaders of the world, and implement the suggestions on employability from the 2015 Action Plan for Successful Aging.
c. Both Lily and Intan asked for a re-look at retirement and re-employment age.
d. Pei Ling asked the government to take the lead in senior employment, and spearhead the process changes in work environment and job design.
e. Leon spoke about the use of technology and innovation to expand the employability of seniors.
i. I concur on that point.
ii. In my previous speeches, I also highlight the potential for the government to tap on the shared economy to create micro-jobs for our seniors.
iii. An example is paying them a fee each time they support our nurses to do home-based healthcare delivery.
12. Rahayu and Joan asked for us to do more for babyboomers through more CHAAS discounts, and for a broader group of seniors. I fully agree on the necessity.
13. Members also proposed fine-tuning financial support criteria.
a. Joan spoke about more support for chronic mental illness.
b. Cheryl spoke about increasing Medisave limit usage for senior above 70 with chronic illnesses.
c. Joan, Lily, and Cheryl asked for more support for community health programs, with more emphasis on disease prevention.
i. Doing so requires us to provide our seniors with more targeted advice on diets and lifestyle changes, as Joan proposed.
ii. Cheryl also proposed that we must also continue to get seniors to exercise, and complimented Active SG for doing a good job at Feng Shan.
d. Pei Ling, Lily and Leon also asked the government to accelerate our local pace of digital eldercare innovation.
e. Thiam Poh asked for an increase in home care medical services, staffed by skilled caregivers.
f. And Joan asked the government to roll out more dementia friendly communities, something that I wholeheartedly concur.
g. Joan stressed the importance of Eldershield, and getting the current review done right.
Emotional Well-Being of Our Seniors
14. Beyond finance and health, members also believe emotional well-being is just as important.
a. We believe that our seniors, even if they retire, should stay active. As Pei Ling hopes, “we can continue to contribute because we want to. It brings meaning to life, it helps us look forward to every new day. Is it not wonderful?”
b. As such, Joan proposed the innovative idea of encouraging time-banking, which will not just encourage seniors to volunteer, but also spur bartering of services between seniors. Lily’s suggestion for a one-stop shop to do volunteer advisory in a structured fashion is also excellent.
c. But sometimes, our seniors also need community support, especially on the emotional front.
i. As such, Rahayu, Joan and many of us called for a nationwide rollout of the successful Community Networks for Seniors program.
ii. I fully agree. Getting government support for coordination through CNS will give our community efforts a major push.
iii. Pei Ling also contributed the refreshing idea to get all Singaporeans conscripted as volunteers to support seniors. – two days a month, with real vocations, real roles and responsibilities.
Fighting Misperceptions on Aging
15. Members of this house also spoke about fighting misperceptions.
a. Pei Ling asked us to “Stem out ageism”.
b. I am confident that our seniors will prove critics wrong. If we can keep our seniors physically well and mentally sharp, then age is just another number.
c. In fact, we must do more than stem out ageism.
i. Lily asks all of us focus on bringing out the best of our seniors, focus on the Silver Dividends, rather than worry about the demographic time bomb.
ii. She is right. We are a decisive country, and we think long term.
iii. If we come together as a society, we can get to the right side of aging.
16. The stakes are high for us. Because all Singaporeans, every member of this chamber, own this challenge together.
a. Let me quote Rahayu, “We shall also remember that we will all grow old one day. We will be that statistic, that group that would tap on Government funds, that would add to the healthcare cost, that would need to be cared for.”
b. But beyond Government programs, we must also step as a society by creating and participating in community initiatives.
c. And specifically for members in this chamber, we have an added responsibility as the local leaders capable of pulling together hearts, minds, and hands, in our own respective areas.
17. So we in this chamber must all step up. Actions speaks when words can’t.
18. As Pei Ling puts it, “a caring and inclusive society cannot be one that the citizens only talk about it, and expect someone else to do it. We have a duty to each other”.
19. And when we discharge our duties to our families and seniors, we would, like Heng Leung who cared for his father, “see the world through their eyes”, and discover empathy in ourselves and in our society.
Reactions to Government Responses
20. I would like to thank the government, for providing such a comprehensive response across five ministries.
21. I am glad to hear from MOS Sam Tan about our government’s progressive take towards retirement and re-employment. I take his point that the private sector needs time to get used to the recent changes. I also appreciate MOM’s efforts to create demand for senior employment. This includes the Work Pro and the Senior Employment Credit.
22. At the same time, I would like to remind our seniors that their fate is largely in their hands. There is no legal limit on when we can stop working, as long as there is demand for us.
23. Also, as the workforce continues to get more senior, companies that do not wise up to the potential of seniors will lose out. If our seniors can ensure that their skillsets stay relevant, that they would be prized for both their skills and wisdom over time.
24. SMS Janil and SMS Amy have both shared excellent examples of how we can apply technologies to help our seniors. I look forward to continuous innovation from our government.
25. There is a lot of innovation out there. Just the other day, my volunteers called me from Bangkok, and told me that he found a manufacturer who makes a smart watch which can be customised for seniors with dementia. This watch can enable these seniors to stay independent as long as possible.
26. The watch could a senior with dementia to easily do a video call his loved one. There is also a geo-fencing function where the caregiver will be notified if the senior goes out of a predetermined area. I hope Smart Nation and MOH will be open to new solutions like this when they do emerge.
27. I deeply appreciate Minister Desmond Lee’s promise to relook at URA developmental controls. More flexibility there can do wonders to provide much needed housing options, especially for our seniors living in private estates. Having said that, it is clear that MND has done much to create new models of housing, especially for the public estates. That that is well noted by the public.
28. I thank MSF for their progressive attitude towards encouraging companies to be family-friendly, and to push for that through the Tripartite Standard of Flexible Work Arrangements (FWA) and leveraging on the workplace grant. I take MSF’s point that companies need time to adjust and adapt, before we can consider further moves.
29. Until then, I appeal for more companies to apply flexible work arrangements to their employees who are caregivers. Loyalty goes both ways. When a company treats employees with compassionate, the employee usually respond with passion.
30. On reverse mortgage, I take the point that companies have stopped offering this service. That is precisely why I think there’s a gap, and this gap will grow. I hope the private and social sector can think hard about meeting this need.
31. I am also heartened by SMS Amy Khor’s point about confident aging, and her progress update on the Action Plan for Successful Aging. In many of the areas raised by my fellow MPs, MOH are either piloting something, or are scaling up an existing program. As the action plan continues to roll out, I appreciate SMS Amy Khor’s openness to ground-up ideas on time-banking.
32. I also appreciate MOH’s openness to explore strengthening on CNS in the coming budget, as well as its desire to review of healthcare financing of excellent programs such as CHAAS.
33. I would like to also thank Min Gan and SMS Amy for the Action Plan for Successful Aging. It is a remarkable plan, and the result of painstaking consultation exercise involving more than 4,000 people. I hope the ideas discussed today will help strengthen our plan.
34. Let me now conclude our motion. Some say that Singapore is too future oriented. From Day One. Our founding PM was all of 36 when he started steering a big ship called Singapore. And he was not the youngest one.
35. Since Day One, we forced the future onto ourselves, in every dimension we can think of.
a. When we were still a developing country, international experts said we couldn’t afford an MRT system. But we went ahead with the MRT anyway.
b. We built whole industrial estates, before companies were interested in coming in.
c. We are one of the few countries in the world that have turned salt water to fresh, and used water to drinking water, in anticipation of our future water needs.
36. Often our pioneers made sacrifices to afford these projects. I think I understand why. Just like their personal sacrifices for their children, this is our seniors way of saying to us, “we care for you, and do our best for you.” (repeat quote)
37. Now that we have comfortably crossed our first fifty years, I think we have passed a milestone. Singapore must continue to be future-oriented, to continue the torch that our founding generation passed on to us. Like the seniors before us, we owe our children a duty to build a bright future, sparkling with possibilities.
38. But we should also grow a deeper appreciation of legacy. We must build a Nation for all Ages:
a. With a healthy respect for legacy and experience,
b. Where our seniors age successfully, and in dignity,
39. Only when we have done this, can we say to our caring seniors, who built Singapore for us:
a. “Don’t worry. We’ve got this covered. And we have you in our hearts.”
40. Questions put, and agreed to. Resolved, that “This House believes that seniors are a gift to our society, contributing to a wise and resilient Singapore, and calls on the government to strengthen our support for our seniors to age with dignity, and spearhead community efforts to create a society where our seniors can thrive.”