Senior cleaner at Lau Pa Sat (TOC stock photo)

Has this poor 79 year old man literally worked himself to death?

News reports of a 79 year old man who has apparently died in his flat tugs at my heart strings and reminds me of everything that we as a society have to do better at. This man represents to me, all the failings of our society.

According to neighbour, Mr Luo, the deceased had been working as a cleaner at a hospital and had difficulty walking. This begs the question – why is a 79 year old man who can’t walk properly doing a labour intensive job?

While certain members of parliament (MP) have suggested that the older generation choose to work in order to keep active, I find it hard to believe that a man that is almost 80 and who has trouble walking would willingly work as a cleaner to keep active. There are after all many ways to keep active.

Let’s be clear here – we aren’t talking about white collar consulting jobs that older people may take up to keep their brains engaged post retirement. We are talking about manual labour blue collar work which I highly doubt most old people without financial problems would take on for fun.

This begs another question – what is our safety net for older people with financial issues? Examples such as these seem more common than we want to admit. From these reports, it is manifestly clear that as a society, we really could do more. Will these be one of the key issues that the  4G PAP leaders will address pre election? If not, it should be. As the government pushes ahead to inject fresh blood into its ministerial pool, it mustn’t forget the old people in society.

Another neighbour, Mr Hong said that the deceased had worked too hard. This again debunks the possibility that the deceased was working to keep himself active. Working too hard does not gel with working for fun or leisure. Rather, it sounds like someone who may not have had too much of a choice. Had this poor man literally worked himself to death?

I am not blaming any one individual for this unfortunate tragedy. However, I think it might be fair to say that the incident may have been avoidable if more consideration was given to the under privileged among us. While Singapore is against the so called “welfare state”, preferring to put the onus on family members to look after their old, it is important to remember that not everyone has the blessing of a responsible and loving family. Regardless of whether a person has family, he or she still deserves basic care and consideration.

In my life, I have travelled extensively and lived in various cities. With this perspective, I can honestly say that I have never seen as many old people doing manual work as I have done in Singapore and I may not be the only one who has similarly made this observation. What does this say about our government policies and way of life?