By Andrew Ong
Much attention has been on Singapore's greying population and it will likely remain a perennial national challenge for many years to come.
According to the United Nations, population ageing will be most significant in Asia. By year 2050, 1.2 billion people in Asia will be 60 years and above - four times the number today.
With our higher life expectancy, Singapore counts as one of the fastest ageing countries in the world. Today, one in 12 Singaporeans are 65 and above.
By the year 2030, that will increase to one in five.
Ageing in Singapore
Anticipating the ageing issues that will arise, our government has made substantial effort to address these issues such as the SICEX 2008 Exhibition that was held at the Suntec Convention Hall two weeks ago.
The Ministerial Committee on Ageing (MCA), led by Mr Lim Boon Heng from the Prime Minister's Office, has been kept busy since last March by coming up with new initiatives for our more senior citizens. This has come in the forms of advocating employment for older workers to annuities for old age and the tweaking of Eldershield and the CPF.
When explaining the reason behind the key changes of the CPF scheme, PM Lee cited how the government was concerned about Singaporeans' financial sustainability especially with the rise of life expectancy at 80 years old now.
From a glance, it looks like we do have a government that truly cares for its people with their plans to provide secure retirement for the ageing population. However, if we scratch the surface deeper, we might find another reason.
Tapping on human resource
It is a well-known fact that Singapore, being deprived of all other natural resources, has only our human resource to tap on. That is why the role of education in Singapore is emphasised and is one of our nation's core foundation.
This also further explains and helps us understand the government's stance on certain policies or leadership approaches. For instance, we pride ourselves for providing WORKfare and not WELfare.
In Singapore, there is no "free lunch" and all of us are expected to work. If you want welfare, you got to work and contribute to CPF to receive incentives. That is our workfare.
Asset or liability
Imagine when 500,000 Singaporeans retire at age 65 by 2010 out of 4-5 million as projected by statistics. And couple that with the higher life expectancy and the need of healthcare.
Would retirees have enough to survive?
Where would they get the money to survive if their savings are wiped out?
Would there be a sufficient workforce to sustain economic investments and growth?
I believe these questions are our government’s primary concerns. And with the rapid growth of the ageing population, there is an urgent need to find solutions in keeping our economy going.
Not only does a retiree represent un-productivity, he/she also represents in economic terms, a liability.
Simply because by not working, one no longer contributes to the CPF. Not only does he/she not give, but he/she is taking. Not to mention that our economy, being so dependent on consumer spending in keeping it afloat, would likely experience a big dip with retirees having less spending power.
So if a retiree runs out of money, where does he/she go?
If you don't believe, you only have to look at our present situation with the rising cases of the poor and needy seeking financial assistance.
Therefore with the number of retirees expected in the years to come, that poses a huge "liability" for our government. And this better explains the initiatives and measures for securing our retirement - welcoming of foreign workers and the recent means testing for healthcare.
Not sure if you agree with me, but all these initiatives, seems to only be for the sustainability of the economy, and not exactly because of any genuine care and concern for us Singaporeans.
Looking hard below the surface, I am faced with the hard truth that I am regarded as nothing more than a mere number contributing to my country’s population statistics.
Work till I die
But to be fair, I applaud the government in doing a fine job in ensuring that our limited human resource in Singapore is fully utilised to contribute productively to our nation's workforce.
Putting myself in their shoes, this could be a bo bian (no choice) kind of situation.
However, as a working 30 year old Singaporean, my concern is the rising cost of living which will shrink the value of my CPF retirement nest in 30 years’ time.
Another concern is the affordability of healthcare, as by that “retirement age”, healthcare would be a necessity for me to keep working in order to stay alive.
Against such a bleak bo bian backdrop, it is apparent that as a Singapore citizen, I will have to work till I die.
Is our future really ours to make - as an NDP slogan once said?
About the author: A true-blue Singapore heartlander, Andrew Ong is presently working in the Research & Corporate Communicatons division of an NGO which represents the manufacturing sector in Singapore. Other than his work, he enjoys serving others through his church and community work. In his free time, he fuels his passion for writing through his personal blog.