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Singapore’s 2019 budget lacks urgency and vision to tackle Singapore’s ageing needs, says AWARE

The country’s leading women’s rights and gender equality advocacy group, AWARE, said in a statement that they were ‘surprised and disappointed’ that the government did not embrace the opportunity to formulate and present a more expansive and bold strategy to address the urgent problems of ageing and caregiving.

While Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat did acknowledge the burden of caregiving and announce several key initiatives towards expanding healthcare financing during the budget presentation on 18 Feb such as the Long-Term Care Support Fund, AWARE felt these measures were inadequate.

Shailey Hingorani, AWARE’s Head of Advocacy and Research said “…benefits were restricted to one generation, and were mostly one-off. We would have liked to see a more comprehensive package for individuals entering their silver years.”

Noting that 1 in 2 adults over the age of 65 could become severely disabled during their lifetime, AWARE pointed out that many Singaporeans are understandably concerned about rising healthcare costs. On this point, AWARE says they are ‘pleased’ that the government has targeted the care needs of lower-income individuals with the expansion of the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) which has been expanded to provide support for common ailments.

However, the statement said that the continued extension of benefits on a generational basis – such as the Merdeka Generation Package – is a missed opportunity for the government to assure all Singaporeans that their future is secure as they age.

“We were expecting more because we only have a few years to get our long-term care services and support systems right. We hoped for a much more ambitious vision of universal long-term affordable care to assure all Singaporeans, not just a single generation, that they will be well cared for, whatever their economic status. For example, we would have liked to see the Pioneer Generation Package extended to all persons upon reaching age 65, and CareShield premiums made gender-neutral.” said Ms. Hingorani.

AWARE’s ninth annual Budget recommendations, submitted on 11 January, proposed direct financial support (through a matched savings scheme) for caregivers, who tend to mostly be women. On this, AWARE stated they are “pleased to hear that the government will top up CPF by up to $1,000 for about 300,000 eligible Singaporeans aged 50-64 – especially because, as the Minister explained, the majority of these recipients will be women who left the workforce early to provide care for their families.”

“Family caregiving and ageing affect women disproportionately,” said Ms Hingorani. “We hope that this will not be a one-time measure and the government will consider other initiatives such as a matched savings scheme for women aged 30 – 55 years who have not yet achieved the Basic Retirement Sum. After all, there will always be those who need care, and those who have to give it.”

To fund this, AWARE suggests more progressive forms of taxation. These include increasing Singapore’s top marginal tax rate of personal income tax which they described as ‘currently quite low compared to OECD countries’. In Singapore that rate is 22% compared to the average rate of 33.5% in OECD countries.

AWARE also suggests that the government consider introducing a wealth tax that taxes assets of S$2.5 million and above, excluding the first million.

“From our perspective, universal healthcare is an investment in our population,” said Ms Hingorani, “and the best way to carry it out is via redistributive taxation, which narrows the gap between rich and poor.”