MARUAH, a human-rights NGO, asks the Government to provide more for older people in Singapore, including those who are 55 and above. This is because there have been studies and reports on how seniors in the country are just not coping well, financially, and in some instances, in self-management.

The latest study, using the Minimum Income Standards (MIS), was released by a team of researchers led by Assistant Professor Ng Kok Hoe from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

The study revealed the disparity between the financial needs and the financial resources of older persons in Singapore, highlighting the minimum household budgets required to meet the basic needs of the older population.

A basic standard of living goes beyond just food, shelter and clothing, stated the researchers, as participants also valued quality of life. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of him(her)self”.

As such, it is good to note that the study also took into account opportunities and access to education, employment and social participation, which contribute to the well-being of a person.

In using the MIS approach (as has also been used by other countries such as the UK, France and Japan), the team then weighted the budgets needed for older persons to maintain the agreed basic standards of living.

Going by the profile of individuals, the study showed that the appropriate amount a person needs for a basic standard of living, are as follows:

– for single elderly households: $1379 per month
– for coupled elderly households: $2351 per month
– for single persons aged 55-64: $1721 per month

The researchers also compared work incomes to the budgets and their study revealed that the median monthly work incomes for the three most common occupations among older persons ranged from 0.9 to 1.2 times of the budget. This means that even if older persons are employed, the wages they earn may be insufficient for them to achieve the study’s recommended household budgets required for a basic standard of living.

However, the government does have a range of income measures aimed at older persons, which helps to supplement their income. These schemes include:

– Progressive Wage Model (PWM): imposes a minimum wage for workers from three low-paying sectors, including cleaning, landscape and security.
– Central Provident Fund (CPF): those who meet the Basic Retirement Sum requirement at age 55 will receive monthly annuity payouts upon retirement.
– Cash payments (for eligible persons only): ComCare Long Term Assistance, Silver Support Scheme and GST Voucher

Although MARUAH acknowledges the importance of these government’s schemes, but it stated that more needs to be done in terms of adequacy, governance, sustainability and implementation of the schemes, based on the study’s findings on what an older person needs.

For instance, only 55% of people have sufficient savings to meet the Basic Retirement Sum to receive the monthly payouts after retirement. The rest of the people do not receive any annuity, after retirement.

Even for those who qualify, the payouts received each month is a mere 57% of the study’s recommended household budget.

As for the cash payments, less than 1% of older persons are eligible for ComCare while the Silver Support Scheme and GST Voucher cover only up to half of all retirees. Even if one qualifies for all three cash payment schemes, the total amount received would just be over 50% of the study’s recommended household budget.

Clearly, there are gaps in these public schemes as mapped out in the study, which shows that the Government schemes need to be revised by increasing the level of financial assistance and by implementing them more effectively.

If that is not all, the NGO also supports the recommendations made in the study like:

– not just relying on the family as the “first line of support”
– addressing the unequal wages given to older persons for the work they do and to reducing discriminatory wage practices against older persons
– having financial schemes such as public pension payments and other provisions to cover expensive healthcare costs for older persons

As such, MARUAH urges the Singapore government to seriously consider adopting the benchmarks set in this study in future policies and to consider implementing the recommendations put forward to ensure an adequate standard of living for all older persons in Singapore.