A recent study by Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYPP) at National University of Singapore reveals that a minimum of $1,379 a month may be required for an elderly aged 65 and above to live decently in Singapore.
Yesterday, the Sunday Times published an article to delve into the issue further (‘$1,379 a month for retirement in Singapore: Too much or too little?‘, 2 Jun).
It featured an odd-job labourer Chow Yit Keong, 66, who began experiencing heart problems two years ago that made it hard for him to work. He soon found himself in dire straits. He has no children to look after him and exhausted what little savings he had. As a laborer, he only earned about $1,000. His savings were all gone for looking after his own father who died a few years ago.
Mr Chow now lives in a one-room rental flat in Tampines and receives only $250 from his monthly CPF payouts. Because of his predicament, he also gets an extra $750 each quarter or $250 per month from the government under the Silver Support scheme. In total, he gets $500 per month to survive in Singapore, less than half of the recommended $1,379.
“I mostly eat at home and only go out to the coffee shop or exercise corner nearby to socialise,” he said. “Money can get tight towards the end of the month, but I just have to be thick-skinned and borrow money from my friends to tide myself over.”
Clearly, Mr Chow is in a tight situation every month, barely able to have a decent living in Singapore.
Dr Jeremy Lim, a partner at consulting firm Oliver Wyman’s Asia-Pacific health and life sciences practice, noted that the LKYPP’s $1,379 figure had assumed that the elderly would be in good health, and so healthcare expenditure was not even factored in. Even though Singaporeans are all covered by MediShield Life scheme, co-payments are still required, said Dr Lim.
According to IPS, data from the Household Expenditure Survey done in 2012 and 2013 showed that about 58,300 resident retiree households, comprised solely of non-working people aged 60 and above, had a per capita income of $601 and below. They comprised of bottom 20 per cent among all households.
So, presumably, there would be even more households at more than the 20 per cent, getting a per capita income of $1,379 and below.
MP Lily Neo: Help schemes available for the elderly poor
When the Sunday Times interviewed Jalan Besar GRC MP Lily Neo for her comments, she defended the government.
She said that $1,379 is “neither too much nor too little” for a senior aged 65 and above who is living alone. But this is not to say that those who get less than $1,379 a month are necessarily deprived.
She pointed out that a number of community care services and help schemes have been rolled out to assist those like Mr Chow who are relying on handouts that in total are still less than $1,379.
She added that these community groups have integrated their services so that an elderly in need will be able to take part in activities, like karaoke, or get home care services and meal deliveries at little to no extra cost.
These elderly can even go on organised day trips to Malaysia at subsidised costs of about $20 to $30 each, she said.
Many elderly forced to continue to work at the detriment of their health
Dr Jamie Phang, cluster director of community eldercare services at Methodist Welfare Services, said that a large percentage of her clients would not be able to meet the $1,379 budget, as her organisation primarily serves the elderly who are from the bottom 10 per cent of the household income group.
“Some of them are unable to retire due to income inadequacy,” she noted. “Often, these seniors continue working, sometimes to the detriment of their health, as they do not wish to be a burden to their families or even to social service organisations that extend financial assistance to them.”
Some also find it difficult and embarrassing to apply for the financial assistance that they need, she added. Indeed, several years ago, the Chinese media reported an elderly cleaner worked till she died inside a public toilet.
NMP Walter Theseira noted that a National Wages Council report out last week suggested that about 8 to 10 per cent of income earners get less than $1,400 a month. This group is unlikely to have enough savings to meet the $1,379 threshold when they retire if they continue to earn around the same amount, he added.
The LKYPP report also said that about 80 per cent of the elderly relied on adult children for financial support.
However, Dr Theseira said this dependence is not sustainable in the long run. “You’re just kicking the can down the road, as every $300 to $400 that children give their parents is a sum that they could be saving for their retirement,” he said.