The Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) at National University of Singapore released a short animated video to explain how they came up with the sum of S$1,379 a month which they say is what an elderly person in Singapore would need to maintain a basic standard of living.
In the video, it’s explained that a diverse group of people were brought together in focus groups to discuss and agree on a list of basic needs of an elderly person based on ‘societal norms and values’. The video claimed that this method was better than only asking experts who might not know what real lives are like or looking at what the elderly are already spending on.
In the end, they agreed that the basic standard of living goes beyond just staying alive with housing, food, and clothing. Other factors that are important include opportunities for education, employment, work-life balance, and healthcare which will allow people to experience belonging, security, respect, independence, and social participation.
To do this, they looked at what older people might need in a two room flat and what activities they might take part in. For example this includes eating out sometimes to socialise with their friends, having clothes for daily use as well as formal wear for special occasions and exercise attire, a small budget to decorate their home to their wants and needs, and providing for mobile gadgets like a laptop and smartphone so they can stay connected. They also included a modest budget for travelling so older people can take a quick getaway.
The video explained that certain things that were not unanimously agreed upon as basic needs such as microwaves and air condition were not taken into account.
Looking at the market prices of everything on the list, LKYSPP came up with S$1,379 a month as the income that older people would need to meet their basic needs.
The video then illustrated that the median income for older cleaners was S$1,200 in 2018. Added to that is their CPF payments of S$800 or below bringing the total income to at most S$2,000 per month, well above the basic requirement according to the research.
So S$1,379, the video claimed, was enough for older people in Singapore not just to survive but to belong.
Rights advocate and former lawyer Khush Chopra shared the research findings on his Facebook page saying that the amount was “a little too basic and catered to a third world quality of life for our elderly for my liking and left me with the impression that it lacked a satisfactory qualitative analysis to set down a satisfactory standard of budget commensurate with the first world oasis Singapore says it is.”
He also pointed out the glaring omission of the cost of healthcare and housing, having assumed that a bare 2-bedroom HDB flat as baseline accommodation.
Several people agreed in the comments of Khush Chopra’s Facebook Post and on Channel NewsAsia that the research failed to take into account major costs such as healthcare for chronic issues which might not be covered by MediSave nor the cost of housing:
Several also pointed out that many elderly people get much lower CPF payouts that the S$800 that the video assumes: