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By Tan Bah Bah
The People’s Action Party has made its best moves so far to recover lost ground with older voters. The measures have come almost thick and fast.
This Sunday (Feb 9), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will host a dinner for 1,500 senior Singaporeans at the Istana at which he will announce a special Pioneer Package of measures to help senior citizens cope with life in their remaining years. Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing said the package will give the pioneer generation and their families a “sense of assurance that their healthcare will be taken care of by society as a whole”. He said it will not be a one-off and have to last five, 10, 20 years, even more, as long as they’re with us”.
Recently, the PAP has also been projecting itself as a party with seniors as its priority. Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob heads the PAP Seniors’ Group which will assist the party to look at the software aspects of elderly healthcare. What are the issues? Will we be training and recruiting enough nurses and other hospital staff for the hospitals? Why are older Singaporeans finding it hard to get jobs? What are the mindsets which must be changed – those of the employers as well as employees?
Before that there was the Ministerial Committee on Ageing, followed by the Tripartite Re-employment of Older Employees and C3A (Council for the Third Age).
All this flurry of activities is a sea change in the official stance. For years, the mantra has been: It is the family’s responsibility to look after its ageing parents. There is only so much the government can do. The buck stops at the family gate.
Now, suddenly, older Singaporeans are taking centre stage.
I see in the latest change of mind a mixture of guilt and common sense politics.
What kind of society are we going to breed? $344 billion in the reserves (2013) and we get miserly with the very people who have worked hard to build the monetary foundation that has led to the current healthy position? At a time when many of these elderly Singaporeans are at their most vulnerable.
In the end, it is plain old politics of desperation and survival which has brought about the turnaround.
Resident Singaporeans 55 years and above made up 22.6 per cent of the 3.8 million residents in Singapore in 2012. They will be joined by the next silver tsunami of 32.8 per cent of 55 years and above in five to 10 years, not including the mortality rate. By 2030, not that far away, there will be at least 80,000 elderly Singaporeans staying alone, whatever measures are being taken to care for the elderly.
Senior Singaporeans are not a particularly quiet group. They will make their dislikes heard loud and clear – whether at the coffeeshops or country clubs or even in a cab..