“The proportion of older Singaporeans who could meet their monthly household expenses and have some money left over increased by about half to 30 per cent from 2009 to 2017, a local study has found” (More Older Singaporeans Meeting Daily Expenses, Felicia Choo).
While “the proportion of older Singaporeans who could meet their monthly household expenses and have some money left over increased by about half to 30 per cent from 2009 to 2017” (ST, May 10), the fact that 70.5 per cent of the 4,500 Singaporeans and permanent residents surveyed – aged 60 and above – believe that they have not been able to adequately meet their daily expenses warrants a deeper examination of the extent to which the elderly in the country are actually financially strapped, whether the combination of individual savings or personal income sources with familial and governmental support remains sustainable, and if there are serious systemic issues to be addressed. And if the cited factors for increased financial inadequacy, by the researchers, include the higher costs of living and rising healthcare expenses, for instance, what are the policies or strategies which might help alleviate the financial situation?
Ascertaining if older Singaporeans are able to meet daily expenses is even more important, given that the survey is based on self-report perceptions which is likely to be riddled with bias. Being more precise with the budgets, income, and expenses will also provide useful information for the design of future interventions. And in addition to the proposed measurement of consumption or expenditure patterns, it would be meaningful – notwithstanding research or logistical limitations – to study: First, how these patterns change over time; second, the groups of elderly, based on demographics besides age and gender, socio-economic and family background, as well as work and healthcare status, which are most vulnerable to income inadequacy (in essence, comparing those who cope well with those who do not); and third, the types of support which are positively related to psychological well-being and other quality of life indicators.
Even more broadly, with a much better understanding of consumption or expenditure patterns, stakeholders would also have an interest in the family, social, and community networks which surround older Singaporeans, how these various networks would change given an ageing population, and whether the government – assisted by different organisations – is well-positioned to effectively meet these changing demands. Because while finances are critical, there is more which defines a good life, especially as one ages. In this vein, an active research and policy process of soliciting first-hand perspectives will yield insights about lived experiences and the day-to-day highlights or struggles, and at the same time prompt more to pay even more attention to those who might be marginalised or disadvantaged.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.