Tan Chuan-Jin urges S’poreans to reframe narrative on ageing society while young and elderly citizens reveal struggle with insufficient retirement funds

The discourse around ageing in Singapore should be reframed into a more positive one, as a “negative narrative can become self-fulfilling”, said People’s Action Party (PAP) Seniors’ Group chairman Tan Chuan-Jin on Sun (13 Oct).

Speaking to PAP Seniors’ Group activists at an event to commemorate the International Day of Older Persons at Hotel Miramar, Tan, who is also the Speaker of Parliament, urged Singaporeans to turn Singapore into “the best place on earth to retire and grow old in” via community activities and individual participation.

He later told reporters, in relation to how the Merdeka Generation – comprising Singaporeans born in the 1950s – is seen as a challenge or a problem to deal with: “What struck me was the term itself. Merdeka means freedom and independence”.

“Why do we look at it as the next phase of our lives, when that’s really the best years ahead of us? Let’s make it that way,” Tan added.

He said that doing so would require Singapore to brainstorm new “elderly-friendly” policies and ways to foster a conducive environment to help seniors.

Tan revealed that the PAP.SG Ambassador Handbook – which covers healthcare initiatives and other areas including Central Provident Fund (CPF) contribution rates for older workers – will assist party activists in educating elderly Singaporeans regarding government initiatives, as keeping abreast with recent policy changes may be challenging.

Older workers’ participation in the gig economy can also help reinvent the purportedly negative narrative surrounding ageing in Singapore, according to Tan.

Jobs in the gig economy, which commonly entails temporary work such as food delivery riders and private car hire drivers for platforms such as Grab and GoJek, can be one of the solutions to issues concerning an ageing demographic, particularly as the country anticipates an increased number of seniors in the coming years.

“Imagine, how exciting this can be? If we can really empower ourselves, we will be free and independent to live our lives fully. We will all truly become the Merdeka Generation, because that is what Merdeka means — free and independent,” he said.

Elderly Singaporeans apprehensive about rising living costs, insufficient retirement funds; return to workforce primarily for survival in old age

Meanwhile, elderly Singaporeans have cited rising living costs and insufficient retirement funds as reasons behind making a return to the workforce.

Reuters reported in Feb that “the employment rate for people over 65 have jumped over 15 percent in the past decade”.

Almost one-thirds of Singaporeans over 65 work, according to Reuters.

With a “sky high cost of living and one of the highest life expectancies worldwide”, many older workers in Singapore have few choices but to return to the workforce after retirement “because they simply cannot survive otherwise”, Reuters highlighted.

An example of such is 71-year-old cleaner Mary, who told Reuters that “the government’s retirement saving scheme doesn’t provide her with enough money”.

“I have to keep on working until the end of my life,” Mdm Mary lamented.

“What to do, no choice. I have to struggle for it.”

Reuters observed that Singapore has launched multiple schemes since 2016 to assist companies with older staff such as the redesigning of grants that subsidise pay.

Previously, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said that Singaporeans have demonstrated a desire “to keep working and save more”.

Responding to a query by Nee Soon Member of Parliament Lee Bee Wah regarding the Central Provident Fund (CPF) withdrawal eligibility age, Mrs Teo posited that “the introduction of re-employment legislation in 2012” has “made it possible for many Singaporeans to work beyond the age of 62”.

She suggested that lowering the CPF payout eligibility age would be unfair to Singaporeans who want to continue working at a later age in order to receive greater payout sums from age 70 onwards.

“Sandwich generation” hold bleak view of ageing in Singapore, according to OCBC and NTUC Income surveys

The bleak view of old age in Singapore also appears to be a fairly common one among working adults in their 20s and onwards who may find it difficult to support their ageing parents and raising their own children at the same time.

Findings from OCBC’s Financial Wellness Index survey in Jul revealed that among 2,000 working adults polled, around half of Singaporeans belonging to what is dubbed as “the sandwiched generation” are struggling to cope with handling both ends, on top of worrying about their own financial status.

Out of the half who find it difficult, some 63 per cent are concerned that they are not able to spend comfortably beyond the basics.

The survey also found that the majority of working adults in Singapore are financially unprepared for retirement, with only around one-quarter of the respondents being on track with their retirement plans.

Around 65 per cent said they are not accumulating enough funds to maintain their lifestyle after retirement.

The study also found that Singaporeans save an average of 26 per cent of their salary, with 82 per cent who proactively have insurance coverage.

About a third do not invest and think of investing as a form of gambling, while almost half have no passive income. Passive income refers to income from rental, dividends, interest income, royalties, payout from annuities and so on.

It was also found in a study commissioned by NTUC Income that the sandwiched generation “revealed harsh realities about how Singaporean’s view their financial future”.

79 per cent of the 200 Singaporeans aged between 21 and 29 surveyed believe that they will be the next sandwich generation, as they feel financially responsible for their retired parents, expect their parents to live longer, and believe that their parents have insufficient retirement funds.

Almost 50 per cent of young Singaporeans worry that their parents will turn to them for financial support upon retirement.

The study revealed that the respondents’ fear was not unfounded, with 3 in 5 parents surveyed failing to plan for their retirement. Even the 59 per cent of those who have made such plans did not plan for their funds to last till they are 82, which is the estimated life expectancy in Singapore.

Moreover, 34 per cent of parents who were confident about their financial situations still expected their children to support them financially when they retire.

Of the 200 respondents aged 35-55 who were surveyed, 73 per cent believe that their children will be the next sandwich generation. 59 per cent even felt that their grandchildren will end up in that same fate.

Consequently, 87 per cent of the young respondents agreeing that their parents should prepare for financial independence upon retirement, and 77 per cent said they would like their parents to be more serious about retirement planning.

In contrast, only 43 per cent would make personal sacrifices such as not marrying or having fewer or no children.