The unfortunate state of the elderly in Singapore– as highlighted in the commentary “Working In Old Age, Out Of Need” (August 14, 2011) by Mr. Tan Hui Yee – should set alarm bells ringing for the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) and its corresponding departments. While the Singapore administration and its representative agencies are careful not to render individuals singularly reliant upon financial handouts or welfare policies, they need to be cognisant of elderly Singaporeans who have to cope with non-existent family support, continually seek employment, and live tediously and frugally from pay-check to pay-check.
Falling Through The Cracks
More often than not, they are elderly members of our society who have unfortunately fallen through the cracks of our social safety net; and the tenuous status quo cannot be conveniently overlooked in the long-run. Employment opportunities are often menial and physically-demanding, while the unresolved monetary limitations equate to perpetual difficulties with healthcare, public transportation, housing et cetera.
Solutions must come from a variety of channels: first, the much-heralded “many helping hands” requires heightened coordination and expansion from the organisations involved; second, feedback needs to be carefully sought from stakeholders; third, maintaining neighbourhood-based social circles to provide an active lifestyle for these seniors.
“Many Helping Hands”?
Voluntary welfare organisations (VWO) – assisted financially by the state and structurally through development councils – have been key players in proactively reaching out to the needy elderly; however, the endeavours can be coordinated with greater finesse and clearer demarcation of roles and responsibilities. Assistance platforms can also be increased in quantity by injecting more manpower and resources into the current line-up, and seeking patience agents of change from new communities.
For instance, innovative methodologies can be undertaken under the banners of volunteerism and community service, to get working professionals and students respectively to be involved in structured efforts to deliver targeted help. Healthcare professionals can also be trained and employed to overcome challenges of ill health amongst senior citizens.
Besides advancing state-based strategies, engagement should be made between the organisations involved, as well as with elderly residents in respective constituencies. Present on-the-ground shortcomings can then be identified, and recommendations implemented. Quite evidently, language barriers and illiteracy have contributed to the lack of comprehension over available aid schemes, and the appropriate application processes.
Spiralling Upwards: Taking A Long-Term View
More crucially, welfare programmes are comparatively unsustainable, for they seem to be – at the moment – pedantically premised upon short-term, band-aid solutions instead of providing more plausible, flexible propositions. Possible alternatives would include the identification and classification of age-friendly work openings that are manageable and accessible – especially those who might be physically-impaired – evaluation of the purported rigidity of the Central Provident Fund (CPF) scheme and payouts, and proper health preventive and treatment schemes.
Finally, neighbourhood-based social circles should be maintained – typically in community centres and housing void decks – to sustain another pillar of support and entertainment for these residents. It would go a long way in terms of having an active lifestyle, making it easier for external groups to render different forms of help, and creating a culture of inclusiveness and companionship for years to come.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.