TL;DR – We will have 830,000 elderly folks amongst us come 2030.
A 70 year-old man committed suicide by setting himself on fire. Zaobao had reported that the man felt troubled after not being able to find work after losing his job as a coffeeshop assistant. Some alternative media sites caught on to that and played it up, claiming that the man had committed suicide as he could not find a job. One site asked:
“Very sad siol! Why is social welfare? Where is his CPF money?”
But in subsequent reports by Shin Min and The New Paper claimed that the man was supposed to start work at a hospital the day he died.
We may never know what drove the man to take his life. But this incident seems to be part of a larger trend of more elderly taking their own lives. In 2014, 126 senior citizens took their own lives. That is a 60% jump from 79 senior citizens who committed suicide in 2000.
When asked what are the issues that senior citizens face that might drive them to consider suicide, Ms Christine Wong, executive director of suicide prevention agency Samaritans of Singapore, said:
“The majority of the elderly clients who called our 24-hour hotline expressed concerns such as physical and mental ill health, financial and relationship issues, and loneliness”
Ms Chan Wai Ping, counsellor at Tsao Foundation’s Hua Mei Centre for Successful Ageing added:
“They lose a sense of purpose, lack confidence in coping with further deterioration and don’t want to be a burden as their care needs get more demanding.”
Singapore’s population is rapidly ageing. By 2030, Singapore is expected to have 830,000 elderly people. If fertility rates remain as low as it is now, by 2050, one in three citizens and permanent residents would be above the age of 65. The median age of citizens and permanent residents in Singapore will rise from 40 (median age in 2014) to 55.
These statistics highlight the urgent need to come up with better systems, policies, and institutions to ensure that Singaporeans are able to age gracefully and that our later years are indeed golden. The need is particularly pronounced for senior citizens who have little or no savings.
From the slew of actions that the government has taken, it seems that the government is well aware of this need. The actions that the government has taken range from keeping healthcare costs affordable, increasing financial assistance, and enabling senior citizens to stay active
Keeping Healthcare Costs Affordable
Changes to policies to help senior citizens keep healthcare costs affordable include allowing Medisave to be used for more chronic diseases, giving all senior citizens from the pioneer generation the community health assist scheme (CHAS) card, and the implementation of MediShield Life.
The government has also developed different models of care for senior citizens. The Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) piloted the Singapore Programme for Integrated Care for the Elderly (SPICE) in 2011. SPICE aims to “provide comprehensive, integrated centre- and home-based services to support caring of the frail elderly. SPICE enables frail elderly who have high care needs and are eligible for admission into nursing homes, to recover and age within the community.”
Today there are five SPICE centres throughout Singapore.
With all these changes in policy and schemes in place, the government expenditure on healthcare has grown six-fold over the last ten years.
Increasing Financial Assistance
As early as 2002, the government launched ElderShield, “an affordable severe disability insurance scheme which provides basic financial protection to those who need long-term care, especially during old age”. It was reformed in 2007 to give a higher payout.
This year, the government announced the Silver Support Scheme. This scheme supplements the income of senior citizens who have had low incomes throughout their working life. The scheme provides quarterly payouts of varying amounts to Singaporeans aged 65 and above in the lowest 20% of income earners.
Enabling Senior Citizens to Remain Active
The government has rolled out various initiatives for senior citizens to remain active. The latest initiative is the setting up of the National Silver Academy (NSA). Working with a network of course providers, NSA offers a wealth of learning opportunities to senior citizens. Senior citizens can even take courses in universities, polytechnics and ITEs without having to take examinations. Senior citizens can pick up work-related skills from the NSA as well as skills in fields as varied as gerontology, media, design, finance, IT, the humanities and the arts.
What if they want to keep working?
I say “Let ’em work!”
Under the Retirement and Re-employment Act (RRA), the minimum retirement age in Singapore is 62 years old.
Re-employment refers to continuing to employ the workers when they hit the retirement age at 62 years. Once workers reach 62 years old, employers are required to offer re-employment up to age 65 to eligible employees. NTUC, the Labour Movement of Singapore, has also successfully lobbied for the government to raise the re-remployment age to 67 from July 2017.
My fellow contributor here, Flora, recently published a post on this on her blog. She’d explained it quite neatly like this:
In layperson speak, this basically means that you CAN retire at 62, or anytime you want actually. (If tomorrow you strike Toto and want to stop working forever, nobody can force you to get a job what!) But for those who CAN and WANT to continue working, this upward adjustment is to ensure that people who want to work get a chance to work!
At the end of the day, it is YOUR choice.
Singaporeans have one of the highest life expectancies in the world at 82.8 years old. So if we retire at 62, there is a long 20 years ahead of us. It’s understandable that even if not for the money, there will be some people who would choose to continue working if their health allows it. It’s important to be active and stay relevant to the world we live in.
Could we do more?
Definitely. For instance, some have argued that the payouts for the Silver Support Scheme should be trebled.
Companies can also do more by putting more thoughts into job redesign and how they can optimise the mature manpower. There is support from the Labour Movement, and there are also grants available.
We could also do with more eldercare centres that provide daycare for senior citizens, especially those with dementia, at affordable costs. And with more senior citizens living alone, or with children who work, there is room for more affordable home care for senior citizens too.
These are issues which we hope that the government will actively look into and provide bold, effective, and efficient solutions. If done well, and with some luck, we may just be able to halt the trend of elderly suicide rates.
(Featured image via TheNewPaper)