Ruling party parliamentarian Lim Biow Chuan recently revealed that he told his father to run a fruit stall because it is cheaper for him than eventually having to pay for his father’s dementia-related medical expenses.

Speaking to a group of grassroots and union leaders during a dialogue at the South-East District conference at the NTUC Centre last Thursday, the Mountbatten SMC MP was responding to a question by a 70-year-old Singaporean who asked if the Government can implement a pension scheme for the elderly.

Interestingly, this is the same question that Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong answered as he slammed the Singaporean’s suggestion that high ministerial pay be cut to fund an elderly pension scheme by asserting, “Ministers are not paid enough.”

According to a truncated transcript of the dialogue, 70-year-old Abdul Aziz said that political leaders’ claims that the elderly work because they want to or because they want exercise are perhaps the exceptions to the rule since many senior citizens work during their twilight years because they need to work to survive.

Aziz then asked whether an elderly pension fund can be implemented for senior citizens by perhaps slashing 10 per cent of ministerial salaries or cut a little bit of spending on defence. Read his full question here:

“I am 70 years old, so I am really concerned about issues that are about the elderly. Unfortunately, I would say that the bad picture which has been painted is that the elderly have been forced to work, cleaning toilets, serving tables, just to survive.
“And the example that Dr Maliki said (of a senior working just because she wants to, not because she needs to), perhaps it is the exception rather than the whole. I think not many people will believe you if you say that elderly work because they want to mix, because they want to do exercise. Perhaps they work because they need to work.
“So in this case, may I just suggest that perhaps can we have some sort of an elderly pension fund, for the elderly. We will have an appropriate means test and all that, to make sure it is not being abused. And Mayor will ask me how do we fund this fund?
“Perhaps, maybe can I say we cut a bit on the defence, one F-15 maybe can pay for the whole fund. Or perhaps even the Ministers with the million-dollar salaries, can we perhaps cut by 10 per cent in order to fund this fund? These are just my suggestions. Thank you very much.”

Lim, who also serves as Grassroots Adviser, responded by pointing to the Silver Support Scheme, which “provides additional support for elderly Singaporeans who had low incomes through life and who now have little or no family support.”

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The People’s Action Party (PAP) politician then spoke about how he encourages seniors who are not poor to work and keep themselves active to prevent dementia, sharing a personal story about how he told his own father to run a fruit stall:

“Firstly, there is Silver Support. I think you know there is Silver Support, and Silver Support does help quite a number of our seniors. I am really unsure that we should be too hard on elderly who want to work. To me, if Singaporeans, if you are low-income, the Government does take quite good care of you. There are actually many many schemes to help look after those who are poor. Now if you are not poor, and you want to work, I personally think it is a good thing, because if not, then what do you expect the elderly to do at home?
“I always tell seniors whom I meet, go and do something, whether it is volunteer work, whatever. Because if you stay at home, the chances of you getting dementia is quite high. When my father was alive, he was running a fruit stall. Now he runs it in a very poor manner and he loses money every month. So then he decided one day that he would sublet it out and take some rental income. And so he went home and then he stayed at home. After a few months, I looked at my father and I thought his situation was deteriorating. So I told him why don’t you take back the fruit stall, I will pay for your every month losses, because to me it is cheaper to pay for your every month losses than eventually pay for the dementia medical expenses.
“So he runs the stall, he just sits there and the fruits rot after a while. I was happy because he meets people, he talks to people, and it keeps him going. He doesn’t have to go and collect cardboard boxes, but the reality is that if he does nothing, I am more worried.”

Lim then said that the people should not always go to the government to solve the issues the elderly face and said that it is the responsibility of children to take care of their parents as they age:

“My sense is always that we shouldn’t always look to the government to solve the issues of the elderly. It is every child’s responsibility to look after their parents, because your parents looked after you when you are young. To all those who are getting elderly, I hope that you don’t think that your children should not look after you. These are their responsibilities. And this is what filial piety is all about.
“Now, if for whatever reason your children can’t look after you, come and talk to us. We have many schemes where we will be able to help to those who are lower income to look after themselves. But if you look at people and they are working, whether as a cleaner and all that, don’t feel embarrassed about that.”

Lim then shared another personal account of how he was not embarrassed when his mother wanted to work as a coffeeshop cleaner because she was “bored at home”:

“My mum, about 10 years ago, worked in a coffeeshop as a cleaner. Because she is bored at home. And she asked me, would it embarrass you? I said no, I mean it is a decent job, you want to go and work, I won’t stop you from working. Because if you think it is a decent job, so be it. She is not robbing someone, she is not relying on charity, she wants to work as a coffeeshop cleaner because she gets to do something, she mixes with people, she is happy and I am happy. So now that she is older, she is retired.
“But I honestly feel let’s not be too harsh or too judgmental on elderly who need to work. So if you do meet people whom you think need help, come and talk to us. We will be able to assess them and we will be able to render assistance.”