In her speech at the opening of the second session of the 14th Parliament last Monday (10 April 2023), President Halimah Yacob talked about the need to strengthen Singapore’s social fabric.
“No one should feel left behind,” she said.
“We want every person to be treated equally with dignity and respect. We want a Singapore where everyone belongs, and every citizen has the chance to achieve his or her fullest potential. We want a society that values and supports families; where we care for and help one another, and pitch in to make a difference to our community.”
She went on to list some of the key priorities for the remainder of the Parliamentary term of the government. One of them is to strengthen the social safety nets “so that in every stage of life, Singaporeans can better cope with uncertainties and look forward with confidence”.
“We will help Singaporeans enjoy their golden years with greater peace of mind, by enhancing retirement adequacy, and expanding care and living options. We will enable more seniors to age in place, in the comfort of their own homes, with their families and friends close by,” she added.
86-year-old elderly works as HDB block cleaner
Sadly, many elderly cannot “enjoy their golden years” with any peace of mind simply because they do not have adequate funds to retire comfortably.
Take, for example, last Thursday (13 April 2023), a netizen took to Facebook to express his shock upon discovering an 86-year-old elderly person still working as a HDB block cleaner. This was reported by TOC.
Netizen Fahrurazi Degil shared a photo on Facebook, which showed the cleaning schedule of an HDB block, including the cleaner in charge of the block.
“Hello! I’ve been working in your estate for almost 15 years. I’m a huge fan of football and I like to birdwatch with my friends,” the elderly cleaner introduced himself in the “about me” section.
The cleaning schedule was released by Marsiling-Yew Tee Town Council to the residents of one of the blocks in their estate. Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC is, of course, helmed by none other than Lawrence Wong, Singapore’s designated future PM.
Fahrurazi commented, “86 years old man who should enjoy his retirement instead of cleaning the estate… What does the future hold for us when we reach his age?”
According to a Reuters’ report in 2019, many elderly Singaporeans look for jobs after retirement because Singapore’s CPF retirement saving scheme does not provide enough money for them to survive.
“If I don’t work, where will my income come from?” asked 71-year-old Mdm Mary Lim who was interviewed. She is one of many elderly cleaners earning a meager wage clearing up to 400 plates a day at a food stall in Singapore’s Chinatown. “If I stop my work, how will I survive?” she asked.
The Singapore government recently announced in the Budget 2023 that it will increase the minimum monthly payout for the Retirement Sum Scheme (RSS) from S$250 to S$350 starting 1 June 2023, as part of the effort to boost retirement adequacy.
However, the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) at National University of Singapore published a survey finding in 2019 that an older Singaporean above 65 years old would need S$1,379 a month to meet his or her basic needs, living decently in Singapore.
Netizens condemn government
Not surprisingly, after news of the 86-year-old elderly person still working as a HDB block cleaner came out, netizens took to Facebook to condemn the government.
Many expressed their disappointment with the current state of affairs encountered by Singaporean elderly.
One netizen pointed out that the 86-year-old elderly cleaner has been doing the job for almost 15 years, which means he was already over 70 when he started. Another shared his own experience, saying “I am 70 this year, and I can tell you it does not get any easier.”
Some brought up past remarks made by PAP ministers, who were accused of being out of touch with the reality on the ground. The ministers claimed that elderly individuals continue to work in old age because they want to keep fit.
Speaker of Parliament, Tan Chuan Jin said in 2015 that “some prefer to earn extra monies, treat it as a form of exercise and activity rather than being cooped up at home. They do this to remain independent so that they can have dignity and not have to ask their families for help.”
Others have suggested that the vicious cycle of elderly individuals being unable to retire will continue as long as the incumbent government remains in power. They urge others to take action through voting to make a difference.