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WP chairman urges Govt to be more sensitive to senior citizens who have trouble using digital services

"How will the government initiatives adapt or customize digital solutions, to design them to be friendly to those who cannot see or hear well, or whose command of English is not strong?" said Sylvia Lim

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Workers’ Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim has urged the Government to be more sensitive to senior citizens who have trouble with digital services, in her parliamentary speech on the Fortitude Budget.

Part of Ms Lim’s speech focused on the Seniors Go Digital Movement, which aims to teach the elderly how to make digital connections especially so that they do not get isolated and suffer poor health during times like the circuit breaker period. While Ms Lim said that she supports the movement, she expressed concerns that the push to go digital would inadvertently disempower some seniors.

Although the push to transform Singapore into a Smart Nation has largely been beneficial, Ms Lim pointed out that the default mode of needing to transact with the Government on sophisticated digital systems available today has “alienated those who either cannot afford the necessary devices, do not have the required language skills, or simply cannot wrap their heads around IT environments.”

Ms Lim gave examples of senior citizens who have been impacted by the push to go digital. At a CPF branch office, she noticed a senior citizen who was at a loss when he was asked to apply for Singpass:

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“To illustrate, I visited a CPF Branch Office some weeks ago. I observed a typical scenario of an elderly person with his daughter. She told him in Mandarin: “爸爸,我们现在去楼上拿Singpass” i.e. they needed to go to another section to arrange for Singpass. The elderly man looked totally helpless, as he quietly obeyed his daughter’s instructions.”

The opposition politician said that the senior citizen in this case was fortunate to be assisted by his daughter but pointed out that some elderly folks do not have anyone to rely on. She asked:

“In this case, the man is fortunate to have a caring daughter to help him navigate an unfamiliar frontier. But what about those who do not have anyone to rely on? Or worse, those who place their trust in the wrong people and become victims of crime? Has technology, instead of empowering them, disempowered them instead?”

Ms Lim added that she received a letter from one of her residents about how difficult the Singpass system may be for the elderly. The resident described the struggles of those who were illiterate, or did not have a mobile phone or computer. Setting out how the Singpass system could be costly for elderly Singaporeans, Ms Lim said:

“For persons with no income, maintaining a mobile phone subscription is a financial outlay. Furthermore, even if family members were willing to assist, each Singpass could only be tied to one phone number. This is understandable for security reasons, but it also means that children could not use their phone lines to transact for their elderly parents, thus requiring more purchases of items simply to transact with the government.”

Ms Lim added that she hopes seniors will not be stressed even further by perspectives that they are somehow “falling behind” and need to “catch up” with digital modes of transactions. Asking how the Government can design elderly-friendly services for those who have health or language contraints, Ms  Lim suggested that the authorities could provide an option for counter service for those who need it:

“How will the government initiatives adapt or customize digital solutions, to design them to be friendly to those who cannot see or hear well, or whose command of English is not strong? Will seniors have low-cost options that are basic in nature?

“Finally, I believe we all know of some seniors who simply do not wish to transact digitally, for one reason or another. Can we not simply respect their choice in their old age, and always have an option for counter service?”

Listen to her speech here, from the 9:11 mark onwards:

Parliamentary Speech by Sylvia Lim, on the Fortitude Budget

WP Chair Sylvia Lim's Fortitude Budget speech focused on what the COVID-19 virus had shown about governance blind spots and the implications for Singapore’s long-term recovery. Noting the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women, Ms Lim highlighted that women bore the brunt of family care responsibilities, while observing that domestic violence against women in Singapore had increased. To this end, she noted that besides gender, long-term recovery should also include diverse and multiracial voices – pointing at the Emerging Stronger Taskforce that only include 2 women out of 17, while there was no Malay member represented on the committee. She also noted there did not appear to be any representation from Small & Medium sized businesses. Ms Lim also called for Singapore not to be shackled by models of the past and for more stabilizers in Singapore’s governance model with unemployment insurance for workers, and access to excess CPF funds for members below 55. Continuing on COVID-19, Ms Lim sought clarifications on the how NTUC assessed appeals of the Self-Employed Persons Income Relief Scheme (SIRS) given the experience of several Aljunied GRC residents who were disqualified for SIRS. As SIRS involved the use of past reserves, she also queried why NTUC and not MOM was in charge of the administration of the scheme. On the acceleration of the Government’s Seniors GO Digital Movement as outlined by DPM Heng, Ms Lim cautioned that as systems became more sophisticated, there could be a scenario of technology disempowered some seniors instead of empowering them. She called for the Government to respect the choices of some elders in their old age and to ensure that an option for counter service even as Singapore doubles-down on its digital journey. Read Sylvia's full speech here https://www.wp.sg/fortitude-budget-speech-by-sylvia-lim/ Vid Credit: CNA

Posted by The Workers' Party on Saturday, June 6, 2020

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