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Wednesday February 21st 2018

My main wish-list for budget 2018 – help the elderly poor

For this year budget 2018, I only have one main wish-list for Mr Heng Swee Kiat our finance minister – better welfare for our elderly poor.

To be fair, the elderly always get prime attention for the past few budgets but in reality there is nothing substantial in store for them. Except for the mediocre Silver Support Scheme whereby between $750 to $300 are given out to 20% of our most needy Singaporeans age 65 years old and above, there is nothing much really to shout about. This is a quarterly pay-out working to about $250 to $100 monthly in real monetary support.

At best, it is simply a goodwill angpao from the government – something which you can’t really depend on to survive. How much good can $100 a month does to our elderly poor?

The inadequacy of the scheme means we still see tens of thousands of Singaporeans ekking out a living in foodcourts, coffeeshops and fastfood chains mostly in labour-intensive jobs requiring much physical mobility and strength. Many also sell cardboard for a living or peddle tissue papers to raise some cash on the side.

Most of them either live alone by themselves or have family members but they too are struggling to survive on their own. The escalating cost of living here also means many are still struggling despite all kinds of assistance schemes available.

Most earn less than $1000 a month working 6 days a week on a 8-hour work day – often without any year-end bonus or increment benefit.

In 2016, more than 140,000 elderly received the Silver Support pay-out costing the government $320 million. It is believed that 30% of our senior population have benefitted from such a pay-out welfare scheme.

The situation will grow to be more pressing as we are a fast-greying population. Between 1965 and this year, Singapore’s population grew from 1.9 million to 5.5 million. However, the number of citizens aged 65 and above is increasing rapidly, as population growth slows. The size of this group of citizens doubled from 220,000 in 2000 to 440,000 today, and is expected to increase to 900,000 by 2030 (source: gov.sg/Today online).

The lack of a minimum wage plus the astronomical cost of living here means more seniors will be caught once they entered the twilight years of 65 years and above. This vulnerable group is unable to accumulate enough CPF funds for retirement and has no choice but to come out and work in order to survive.

For the particularly vulnerable elderly, we have also seen many who are homeless and sleep out in the open – often a victim of enforced circumstances than anything else. Though some may have being working, it is often not sufficient for them to rent a room outside or for some personal reason are unable to get any government subsidised housing. The oldest homeless elderly we have met so far is 84 years old and the youngest in his thirties. Some have being sleeping out in the open for more than five years and many belong to our pioneer generation.

The estimated total homeless elderly is thought to number at least 1000 if not more with the concentration heaviest in Beach Road/Lavender – 100, Chinatown – 100, Toa Payoh/Bradell – 50, Ang Mo Kio – 50, Redhill/Tiong Bahru – 50, Little India – 50, Jurong West/Pioneer – 50, Geylang – 30, Kallang/Moulmein – 30, Aljunied – 30, Changi Airport – 30, East Coast – 30, Punggol Park – 30, Sembawang Park – 30 and Balestier/Whampoa – 50

Healthcare is obviously another worrisome problem for this group as once the population ages their bodies will subsequently weaken and thus their need of medical care will increase.

During our charity outreach programmes for the poor and homeless, we realise that many of the elderly poor skip medical appointments out of the fear that they could not afford the medical care – even though we assure them that Medifund is there to cover the medical needs of most elderly poor.

The dental need of the elderly is also appalling as most do not use dentures even when a majority of their teeth have fallen off due to old age and dental implants is also out of the reach of most elderly due to the hefty expenses even in government dental clinics.

It is perhaps timely to revisit the Pioneer Generation medical card whereby CHAS (community health assist scheme) is used as a medical heavily-subsidised outreach for our pioneers. Though laudable, the payable portion is still a deterrence for many seniors who still are not coming out in droves to seek out medical and dental care.

For example, for CHAS Blue card holder – which is the heaviest subsidised, meant for those with household income of $1100 per person, he still needs to pay $98 to $210 for a partial lower or upper denture – an amount which a poor elderly may not be comfortable to foot. The result is a sea of elderly Singaporeans with poor dental health and many living on very liquid food due to the lack of proper dental support.

In conclusion, more can be done to ensure that our elderly can retire comfortably without really having to look for work in order to survive. The pioneer generation who has greatly help Singapore to it’s present-day prosperity must be taken care of properly and not be seen as cast aside when they are old and feeble.

They must not be used by a government who constantly seeks understanding from a population to raise taxes but in reality little has being done for the elderly poor in terms of welfare or medical care.

The promise of the government to use some part of the reserves to alleviate the needs of our elderly must be realised sooner than later as we continue to see thousands of the seniors working in coffeeshops and foodcourts.

If not, we will be seen as a mocking shame by the world who thought Singapore is a prosperous well-taken care of society but in reality many of our elderly poor are suffering.

Written by: Gilbert Goh

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One Response to “My main wish-list for budget 2018 – help the elderly poor”

  1. Heng Ah says:

    All Sporeans ( above 21 y.o.) be given Ang pows of between $100 and $300 under this yr Gov Budget. This amount may not be too big an amount but it’s better than nothing now. From Y2021 onwards, one will need to be prudent in spending cos it’s when GST progressively increase from 7% to 9%. By then many middle-low incomers will feel the squeeze, treasure what u have now till the d-day comes.

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