Photo from Pacific Healthcare Nursing Home’s website

Is Singapore’s public spending on long-term care one of the lowest in the world?

I refer to the article “Care workers earn less than overseas peers” (Straits Times, Jul 27).

It states that “Workers who care for the elderly in nursing homes, daycare centres and at home are paid a lot less than their peers in other countries with similarly ageing populations.”

This was revealed in a report byphilanthropic organisation Lien Foundation on Thursday.

The report states that the workers’ pay is also lower than those in other jobs in Singapore that require similar educational qualifications, such as receptionists and sales assistants.

“The low pay, coupled with a high turnover rate, could make it difficult for Singapore to meet its target of growing the long-term care workforce by 45 per cent between 2017 and 2020, said a report released yesterday by philanthropic organisation Lien Foundation.”

The report also compared Singapore with Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea – four advanced economies in Asia-Pacific with fast-ageing populations.

According to the report, Singapore ranks lowest among them on wages for long-term care workers – despite its median wage across all occupations in the economy being second only to Australia.

A Singaporean nursing aide earns $1,350 a month on average after taxes, compared with $3,750 in Hong Kong and $3,290 in Australia. Why is it that the pay here is 74 per cent ($1,350 divided by $3,750) lesser than Hong Kong’s?

The report also notes that out the five economies, Singapore relies most on foreigners, who make up 70 per cent of such workers here, compared with 32 per cent in Australia and below 10 per cent in Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea. Why is it that Singapore’s foreign workers are seven times more than Hong Kong and South Korea?

After reading the above in the Straits Times, I also read the Yahoo News report.

The first thought that came to my mind was – no wonder our Press Freedom ranking is at 151st!

In its report, the Straits Times did not even mention what is arguably a much more serious and significant issue in the Lien Foundation report.

The study by Lien Foundation pointed that while the $800 million expenditure on the sector in Singapore for the 2016 financial year (FY) rose from $600 million in the previous year, it was still lagging when compared with the country’s economic output.

It found that while Singapore had the highest gross domestic product (GDP) per capita at $71,000 in FY2016, the government’s spending on public long-term care relative to GDP at 0.19 per cent was the lowest among the five economies.

The comparative figures were higher at 0.29 per cent in Hong Kong, 0.92 per cent in Australia and two per cent in Japan.

So, does it mean that public expenditure on long-term care in Singapore is the lowest amongst the countries?

Why is this so?

In respect of the quote from Ms Radha Basu, director of research and advocacy at Lien Foundatin, “We do think there’s room (to spend more)…What we seeing is there is a gap between the real cost of care compared with the norm cost.”

She stressed the need for more “credible national-level data” on the sector in Singapore, and that there is not enough clarity about the cost of long-term care in Singapore currently. This is crucial so that Singaporeans can have informed discussions about the type of health care system they want and how much they would pay for it.

“We have out of pocket data on health care, but not on long-term care…If we knew that, we will get a better sense of what the (magic) number (for government spending) should be,” she added” – does it mean that Singapore may also be the least transparent?

By the way – will CareShield Life become the most profitable national long-term care scheme in the world like ElderShield?

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