Mr. Speaker Sir,
On behalf of parliamentarians from PAP senior group, or PAP.SG, I beg to move today,
“That this House calls for a whole of Singapore effort to ensure that Singaporeans are able to age with purpose and dignity, stay healthy and connected, and be financially stable to look forward to their years ahead.
Mr. Speaker, preparing Singapore for ageing is one of the most consequential topics for us.
We are not talking about niche policy affecting some people.
We’re talking about how we collectively care for parents, grandparents, and other seniors whom we cherish.
We are talking about how we will be cared for, when we ourselves age one day.
That’s why twenty-four members of parliament, and several office holders will speak on both motions on Ageing and Caregiving today. Because the stakes are that high.
What do we Singaporeans want? For most of us: We want to see the entry into our golden years as the start of a new chapter.
One in which we can age with dignity, purpose and peace of mind.
One in which employment opportunities are flexible and that leverage on our past experiences.
We want to continue to learn new things, contribute meaningfully and are appreciated.
We want to take life at a slower pace if we wish to, a life that is rich in meaning and where we can spend more time with family.
We want to have the assurance that our healthcare needs are taken care of. And we know that we can count on the support of the Government and community when we need it.
Now, the big question is how. How can we achieve all of this, when so few societies worldwide have succeed, in a sustained way, through generations.
Over the past six months, Speaker Tan Chuan Jin, as Chairperson of PAP.SG, Ms. Joan Pereira, my fellow Vice-chairperson, our exco members and me did some intense consultation to explore what more can be done.
We engaged well-regarded experts in the healthcare and the ageing space, and leaders from both the Merdeka and Pioneer Generations.
We sought views from seniors from all walks of life, race and religion.
We conducted fifteen forums and luncheon discussions – organised in the open-ended approach similar to that of Our Singapore Conversation (OSC). We received online feedback, and many written submissions.
These are our insights:
One. While an ageing society brings serious challenges, ageing should not be preceive as a problem that must be solved.
Ageing also brings many exciting and positive possibilities for Singapore.
Indeed, a society can thrive and age well if it has the political will to put in place the right long-term policies.
Given that thinking long-term is a hallmark of Singapore, we should aspire to build Singapore up as one of the best place in the world to age.
Therefore, we should boldly reframe our narrative and establish a positive agenda.
Two. All of us must own our future and work together – the Government, the people and the private sector.
No single group can succeed without the others moving together.
We must endeavour to age well as individuals and as a nation.
Given the diverse and evolving needs of current and future generation of seniors, the government must continue to engage.
We found the OSC approach useful, because it build trust, deepens engagement, and generates ideas.
Four. Many seniors find purpose in work. We must create more, and more varied, work opportunities for our seniors, as long as they want or as long as they are able to. And the key is:
To adopt a sector-by-sector approach, and to tap on our tripartite partnership.
Five. Our seniors, particularly the Merdeka generation, have a wealth of experience. They want to actively volunteer their skills and time, and not solely be beneficiaries. The government can encourage and empower more seniors to step forward, especially through SG Cares.
Six. Our government can do more to support ground-up communities of seniors and explore increased use of dialects to better relate to our seniors. We recommend more age-appropriate facilities and communities for our seniors to exercise and do sports.
Seven. We must continue to strengthen the retirement adequacy of our current and future seniors, including gradually raising CPF for older workers to levels similar to that of younger workers, when the economic conditions allow for it. We can give better incentives so that seniors choose to defer their CPF Life withdrawals, giving them bigger future payouds and increased retirement adequacy.
Eight. We must strengthen family support for seniors. We recommend the government to review the definition of families, to include extended families. If extended family members wants to provide support for seniors, our policies should not be obstacles.
Nine. We need to do more to support our caregivers. Dr Chia Shi Lu’s motion held concurrently today will address that.
Ten. We can further evolve our housing policies, especially by integrating public homes with affordable assisted living services. The government can facilitate the creation of group homes within public and private estates to enrich the housing choices available.
We have put our views into a position paper, which we have submitted to the government. In today’s debate, these ten points will be elaborated by all of my fellow PAP.SG MPs – Ms. Joan Pereira, Dr. Lily Neo, Ms Tin Pei Ling, Ms. Rahayu Mazam and Ms. Cheng Li Hui – as well as PAP MPs passionate about senior policies.
At this point, let me put forth an important caveat. Our recommendations build on the excellent work already achieved. Indeed, our seniors have been at the forefront of our Government’s and PAP’s agenda. We can see it through at least four ways:
One. Since 1984, eight ministerial and white papers as well as three PAP.SG position papers have been tabled, each calling for and dedicating significant resources to prepare Singapore for ageing.
Two. Since 2011, our healthcare spending increased by two and a half times, from slightly over 4 billion to more than 10 billion a year, and it will continue to grow. In magnitude, I believe we are undergoing the most aggressive healthcare expansion and transformation in any developed country in recent memory.
Three. Over the past two terms of government, we have re-forged our healthcare financing, retirement, social and public assistance system to the benefit of our seniors.
Four. We have set aside three billion dollars for the 2015 Action Plan for Successful Aging, a plan remarkable for its ambition and scope, which calls for Singapore to be a Kampong and City of All Ages, with opportunities for our seniors.
Therefore, our debate today builds on the tremendous work of respective governments.
Now that I have set the context of this motion, let me spend the rest of my speech on three issues:
One. Improving work opportunities for our older workers,
Two. Strengthening our seniors’ retirement adequacy,
Three. Enhancing local coordination to serve our seniors.
First, work opportunities. Many seniors find purpose in work. Here are some interesting views we have heard:
Does it make sense for companies to value us one day before our 67th birthday, and then write us off the very next day?
We want to continue working, because it gives us a sense of purpose. But we hope to do it on our terms.
Age is just a number. We should move away from age as a proxy for the ability. What matters more is health status, our state of mind.
At the same time, we hear other viewpoints:
Some seniors work to stay financially independent, or to supplement their income.
Others work because they need a certain amount of money to retire with dignity.
Given such diverse views, we believe Singapore’s objective must be:
To create more, and more varied, work opportunities for our seniors, as long as they want, or as long as they are able to.
How does reality match up to this objective? The current picture is a positive one. Today, we are ranked 11th among 35 OECD countries for employment of older workers.
Our success lies with several broad-based policies.
We offset employers’ cost of hiring older worker through the Special Employment Credit.
We supplement the income of our older low-wage workers through the Workfare Income Supplement scheme.
We raised the retirement and re-employment to 62 and 67 respectively.
We have tightened standards for companies to bring in non-Singaporeans.
But there’s always a higher mountain to climb, a higher peak to aspire to. We believe there’s room to evolve our approach.
Moving forward, the solution is not to solely depend, or even largely depend on put more legislation compelling firms to hire more seniors.
This is not sustainable.
Rather we must create win-win situations so that older workers benefit, companies benefit, and Singapore benefits, for both today and tomorrow.
Therefore, we recommend a sector-by-sector, tripartite approach to systematically apply the policies to create more full-time and part time for our seniors. We can also help older workers better access freelance opportunities.
Creating More Full-time Opportunities for Older Workers
Let me start by talking about full-time opportunities. Especially within fast growing industries like IT, healthcare, logistics and transportation, there is room for more full-time jobs for our older workers.
We must put employment of older works firmly on the agenda of these industries. More focused discussions, and sharing of success stories, at the sector and industry level.
And through these focused discussions, we must encourage companies and unions to tap on:
Job-redesign grants to automate jobs, so that older workers can handle easily.
Training and internship grants to onboard older workers from other industries.
HR grants to implement policies friendly to older workers.
Over time, we hope that all twenty-three industry transformation maps will do the same.
Of course, some will call this approach incremental. But I see nothing wrong with that.
Incremental policies, if pursued diligently and intelligently, can yield solid and sustained results.
And this approach draws on Singapore’s strength, which is the strong spirit of partnership between our union, companies, and government.
Creating More Part-Time Opportunities Through Flexible Work Arrangements
Next, we call for all companies to adopt Flexible Work Arrangements (also termed as FWA) when possible. This helps older workers who desire to work, but on the terms and pace that they are comfortable with.
By FWA, we mean: flexible locations, flexible time, and flexible load.
We have made good progress.
MOM’s recent Conditions of Employment survey shows:
Firms offering at least one formal FWA increased to 53% from 50% in 2017 and firms offering at least one ad-hoc FWA increased to 84% from 75% in 2017.
We should aim higher. We should encourage the vast majority of companies to create many more formal FWA roles. More FWA roles mean more part-time work opportunities, and benefit our older workers.
Adopting FWA helps companies too. They can retain and hire talented older workers who prefer or require FWA. They will be well positioned to navigate through our constrained labor market.
Also, as Singapore continues to strengthen our social services, we call for government to create more part-time opportunities:
For example, there can be more part time roles such as adjunct teachers, Senior Generation Ambassadors, medical befrienders, community organizers, assistant to visiting nurses, and enforcement officers.
The government already does some of this. But we call for a whole-of-government approach to adopt FWA. It will also free up more young Singaporeans for the private sector.
Doing this is not rocket science. We just have to put our heads together and take this to the next level.
PAP.SG further calls on our companies, unions and government to study other countries’ experience in promoting FWA, including legislations on “right-to-ask” for FWA.
Next, empower our older workers to access freelance opportunities:
The rise of the platform economy, also called the gig-economy, creates more freelance opportunities for our older workers.
Let me share three examples.
One. Food delivery services such as Foodpanda and GrabFood. Just last week, Janice Tai from Straits Times estimates that there are more than 600 seniors doing freelance food delivery.
Two. Thomson Medical Center (TMC). TMC builds on on Singaporean women’s own experience as grandmothers and mothers, and equip them with latest health and confinement culinary skills, and then place them as freelance confinement nannies. TMC is supported by government training grants.
Three. Singapore Consultancy, a new social enterprise. It help older PMETs from the financial sector transit into freelance consultants, board directors, and even advisors to charities. It has received support from WSG’s Professional Conversion Program. Singapore Consultancy is a model worth encouraging.
We expect the platform economy to grow. But older workers need more help to access these freelancing opportunities.
Take the food delivery business as an example.
On the ground, I sometimes meet very fit seniors in their late 60s and even 70s who want a job, but cannot get them.
At the same time, major food delivery companies have no upper age limit, because they do not see significant differences in performance and safety record between younger and older freelance workers.
Yet, out of more than 6,000 riders that FoodPanda has today, only one percent is above the age of 60.
Surely more can be done. We call for WSG, E2I, and unions for Self-Employment-Person (SEP in short) do more to teach our seniors digital literacy, and direct suitable healthy seniors to these opportunities, including through digital platforms such as the new NTUC-IBM portal.
Beyond food delivery, there are many other freelance opportunities, especially in professional services, as well as F&B industries.
For some older workers, the reality is that it will be hard, though not impossible, for them to get full-time opportunities.
Therefore, we recommend WSG and E2I to not just position older workers for full-time jobs in their current sectors, but also help them identify transferable skills for part-time and freelancing opportunities in other sectors.
In addition, the government and SEP unions can jointly create a positive environment for SEPs through:
Ensuring fair contracting terms, strengthening medical coverage, improving access to training grants, and facilitating CPF contributions.
We can also do more to remove obstacles for our older workers to continue working.
Certification tests are becoming necessary for more jobs. Some older workers fail these tests, and have to downgrade to lower paying jobs. Therefore, we call for the government to encourage best practices for testing seniors. These can include: using larger fonts in tests, providing seniors with more time for Computer Based Tests, allowing seniors with relevant working experience to take written or oral tests in Chinese, Malay or Tamil.
In addition, we should also equip our worker from forty years old onwards with future skills, after which it may become progressivly harder to learn radically different skills.
A good example is SkillsFuture’s Tech Skill Accelerator program, which has recently incoporated future skills such as deep machine learning. Can we have more similar programs?
Next, retirement adequacy. With longer lives and a smaller families, Singaporeans need to save more and plan better for retirement. Especially for workers above 55, and self-employed persons who do not contribute to CPF special account.
We have five recommendations:
First, the government can gradually increase the employers’ CPF contribution rates for older workers beyond age 55 to levels similar to that of younger workers, when the economic conditions allow for it. Some employers have indicated concerns about this, therefore a measured way to do this is important. But it is the right thing to do.
Second, we support the recommendation by the Tripartite Work Group on SEP to collect MediSave contributions more seamlessly. Over time, we should consider asking SEPs to build up their CPF Special Account.
Third, we encourage the government to give better incentives so that seniors choose to defer their CPF Life withdrawals, giving them bigger future payouds and increased retirement adequacy. CPF’s interest rate is already higher than market interest rates, and this is already a natural incentive. But can more be done?
Four, we recommend continued support for low-income seniors through the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) Scheme and the Silver Support (SSS) Scheme.
Five, we recommend the government to accelerate collaborations with community partners to help Singaporeans plan for retirement. We also call for POSB and NTUC to consider setting-up a Thrift-and-Loan cooperative for seniors.
Lastly, let me touch enhancing local coordination to serve our seniors. I believe the frontier of social work in Singapore, including caring of our seniors, lies in:
Helping those in need in a multi-pronged and integrated manner,
Getting community to step in when the family nucleus fails,
Solving issues upstream through policy and community intervention, and
Shaping societal norms that is caring and empowering.
And we at PAP.SG believe strong local coordination is critical to acheive these goals. At the local level, because we have a holistic view of the various needs, we can seek both local and national resources to meet these needs.
So today, some of my PAP colleagues will also share on their local efforts. Putting a spotlight on these programs will hopefully create a cascading effect nationwide.
Let me first touch on Kembangan-Chai Chee, the constituency Speaker Tan Chuan Jin serves.
Kembangan-Chai Chee has integrated social work effort, where their volunteers work with VWOs and agencies. Here are two of their many programs, where seniors in need are involved.
One. Meal delivery for people in need. Volunteers from Kembangan-Chai Chee work with various organizations to provide low income families, including the elderly, with meals 24/7 365 days a year. As of now, they have more than 450 recipients receiving lunch and/or breakfast.
Two. Help for families with mental health issues including hoarding. The team from Kembangan-Chai Chee partners with AIC and IMH, and acting as their ground volunteers. As we all know, cases involving families with mental health issues are usually complex. They also frequently involves seniors. It takes time, many partners to collaborate on each case, but their volunteers press on to do the necessary.
Now let me share about what we do in my constituency, Kebun Baru. For our frail and socially isolated seniors who want help, our team of volunteers from Project Starfish are able to assist every single of them through:
One. Regular befriending by well-trained volunteers, who work with agencies and VWO to meet the needs of seniors. They are supplemented by parents and students from our local schools. This is on top of what Community Network of Seniors, and social workers do.
Two. Regular free meal delivery service through our partner Mummy Yummy.
Three. Regular, healthy, communal meals through HPB’s Share-a-Pot program.
Four. Comprehensive medical attention through our free medical clinic, which has the organisational and nursing support from Mount Alvenia Hospital.
Five. Stepped up patrol by police to the houses of the most frail seniors living alone.
Next, for all seniors at Kebun Baru who are looking for a place to bond and do exercise, we have set up a Senior Activity Centre through the kind assistance of Methodist Welfare Services. Two local churches have also opened up communal space for our seniors.
For seniors with medical needs in Kebun Baru, we have recently started a cancer support network, so that cancer patients and family can get the right information and peer support from their fellow residents, some of whom are cancer survivors themselves. We are also working with the Alzheimer’s Dementia Association to build a dementia-friendly Kebun Baru. Moving forward, we would like to work with Active SG to bring in more communal sports, especially for our senior men.
I look forward to hearing about other local efforts from members of this house.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker Sir, I have spoken about bolding reframing Singapore’s narrative on ageing, and establishing a positive agenda. I also spoke about creating work opportunities and strengthening retirement adequacy for seniors. Lastly, I spoke about how effective local coordination can help us better care for and empower our seniors.
Ultimately, I hope that all Singaporeans can realise that we can collectively build Singapore up, as one of the best places in the world to age.