Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that he believes blind dates and similar matchmaking activities are “useful” in boosting the birth rate. PM Lee made this comment as he spoke to Nikkei Asian Review editor-at-large, Takehiko Koyanagi, at a recent NUS dialogue.
Mr Takehiko asked PM Lee about Singapore’s efforts to increase birth rates and pointed out that the Government has initiate matchmaking sessions like blind dates for younger Singaporeans. Laughing, PM Lee replied:
“I don’t know whether they do blind dates (now), but they used to do many activities. Nowadays, we have outsourced this and we encourage it…some do blind dates, some do cruises to nowhere, some play games together, but I think they are useful.”
Blind dates are certainly a better initiative than some of the ideas PM Lee’s ruling party colleagues have floated to deal with Singapore’s low birth rate. In July, Senior Minister of State for Health, Amy Khor, said that Singaporeans who are living longer can help to offset the low birth rates if more of them continue working for longer.
Essentially on the elderly to work longer to compensate for the nation’s low birth rate, Dr Khor called that the higher life expectancy for Singaporeans an “opportunity” for senior citizens to participate in the labour force especially since the birth rate is low.
She said: “This brings opportunities for greater labour force participation at older ages, and is important for a country like Singapore where birth rates are relatively low.”
While members of the Government continue asking elderly Singaporeans to “work longer” and paint situations where the elderly are forced to work since they are unable to retire as situations that the elderly prefer, the Government also repeatedly says that Singapore has an “ageing population” that will need more resources in the years to come.
Even as the Government boasts about the higher life expectancy, it uses the “ageing population” argument as one of the reasons it plans to implement a tax hike.
In 2018, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that the Goods and Services Tax (GST) will increase by 2 per cent. This tax hike will raise the GST from 7 per cent to 9 per cent and will be implemented sometime between 2021 and 2025, most likely after the next General Election.
Mr Heng said that one of the reasons that necessitates such a tax hike is because the Government needs to fill the gap as healthcare expenditures rise in the next decade due to the nation’s ageing population and the “chronic disease burden”.
The Minister added that the aging population in Singapore is expected to double by 2030 and that the government must be ready as healthcare demands rise due to this.
Citing this same “ageing population” argument, Dr Khor cautioned that chronic diseases and the risk of severe disability have increased significantly. Sharing about the healthcare subsidies available to Singaporeans, she said:
“By supporting Singaporeans to actively manage their health and well-being, we achieve two objectives: a better quality of life for our seniors in their silver years, and a reduction in the strain on our healthcare system.”
It is curious that Dr Khor would urge the elderly to work longer to somehow compensate for low birth rates, while acknowledging that they may not have the best health in their twilight years.
Perhaps sensing this contradiction, the PAP politician added: “Our strategies to help our citizens prepare for longevity are a constant work-in-progress. They are reviewed and changed to adapt to evolving needs of Singaporeans, demographics, and societal challenges.”