June 26th, 2015

State support for the elderly crucial

By Goh Li Sian, Research and Advocacy Coordinator, AWARE

Recently, attention has been given to the fall in the number of nuclear families and its implications for social support.

We wish to caution against assuming that extended family support can or should be the main source of social support (“Extending the support of families”; last Saturday).

This is a simple matter of arithmetic. There are currently 4.8 working adult citizens for each elderly citizen, a fall from 8.4 in 2000. This ratio is set to decrease to 2.1 by 2030.

Yet, Singapore’s population is growing, mostly due to immigration. It does not make sense to limit the support for older people to the resources of their immediate or extended families. Rather, the taxes paid by all people working in Singapore should contribute.

Working adults are now less able to support aged parents financially, let alone extended family members. Doing so risks compromising their own financial security in old age, creating a greater burden on their own children.

Insisting on “intergenerational responsibility within families” over socialising costs will reinforce inequality between households over several generations.

High-income earners may well be able to provide for their elderly parents and other relatives, as well as plan for the future. However, low to middle-income earners will be impoverished, and their chances of social mobility negatively affected.

Recently, the Association of Women for Action and Research conducted in-depth interviews of 20 elderly, low-income women to understand their priorities and needs in old age.

Nearly three-quarters of these women reported that their children did not provide them with financial assistance, that money was a source of tension in their relationships with their children, or that their children may have been willing to support them financially but were torn between supporting their elderly parents and their own children.

Moreover, if older people are dependent on their family members for financial support, they will also be more vulnerable to elder abuse.

There is no proof that older people would rather rely on kin than receive support from the state. There is nothing shameful about social support – it is simply an expression of our collective responsibility and commitment to all members of our society, as acknowledged by the Silver Support Scheme, introduced earlier this year.

And who has a better claim to society’s support than the elderly who have spent their entire lives contributing to it?

This letter was first published in The Straits Times Forum on 26 June 2015.

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