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SINGAPORE: In his National Day Rally speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the Majulah Package, which will top up the Central Provident Fund (CPF) accounts of Singaporeans born in 1973 and earlier.


The aim is to boost the retirement savings of “young seniors” - people in their 50s and early 60s, who Mr Lee explained may be sandwiched between taking care of their children and their parents, while possibly having to deal with more personal health expenses.

The package will particularly benefit lower- and middle-income workers. Those eligible will receive an Earn and Save Bonus of up to S$1,000 a year as long as they are working, with the amount depending on their income.


They will also receive a one-time Retirement Savings Bonus of up to S$1,500 if their CPF balances do not meet the Basic Retirement Sum, as well as a MediSave Bonus of up to S$1,000.


Unemployed seniors will only get the latter two bonuses - still welcome, but small compared to this year’s Basic Retirement Sum of S$99,400, which represents basic living needs in retirement.


The Majulah Package clearly incentivises Singaporeans to work. “Most young seniors are still working and have some years to go before retirement. We encourage you to continue working as long as you can,” said Mr Lee.


Our research suggests that work is intimately related to maintaining social participation and an active lifestyle - hence continuing to work, whether part-time or full-time, can be rewarding for seniors.


However, there are two groups of seniors who face challenges in staying employed. They not only miss out on the Earn and Save Bonus, but the other enriching benefits of employment.


POOR HEALTH AN OBSTACLE TO WORKING


The first group is those who suffer from poor health. A 2016 nationally representative study on Singaporeans aged 60 years and above conducted by the Centre for Ageing Research and Education (CARE) found that only 35 per cent of seniors with chronic conditions were working, compared to 54 per cent of those without such conditions.


Furthermore, among those who reported retiring early, 43 per cent of men and 19 per cent of women cited ill health as a reason.


Healthier SG, launched earlier this year and mentioned by Mr Lee in his speech, aims to address this issue by focusing on prevention rather than cure. Eligible Singaporeans are encouraged to sign up with their regular doctor who will create a personalised health plan for them.


The onus, as Mr Lee mentioned, will also be on the seniors to follow the health plan diligently. If successful, Healthier SG will extend Singaporeans’ healthy lifespans, which will enable them to work longer.


CAREGIVERS NEED SUPPORT TO CONTINUE WORKING


The second group of seniors who stop working are caregivers for their family members. In CARE’s longitudinal study on family caregiving conducted from 2019 to 2022, 30 per cent of caregivers were aged 50 to 59 years, and 56 per cent were aged 60 years and above.


Women are more likely to be family caregivers. In the 2016 study, we observed that women who retired early were much more likely to cite caregiving as a reason (59 per cent, versus only 10 per cent of men).


This is where Age Well SG, which Mr Lee referenced in his speech, can potentially fill the gap. While details are yet to be announced, the new national programme could provide services in the community that reduce seniors’ dependence on caregivers, freeing up their time to work or take care of their own needs.


Such services could take the form of Active Ageing Centres that offer seniors social and recreational activities, befriending services and referrals for care services.


However, more needs to be done to ensure inclusivity. Our research suggests that seniors who benefit the most from organised activities, such as those who are in poor health and socially isolated, are also more likely to face challenges accessing such centres and are reluctant to participate in formal programmes.


Furthermore, a study presented at the Population Association of Singapore 2023 Annual Meeting by Nanyang Technological University's Nathan Widjaja found that some centres face challenges attracting ethnic minorities to participate, which could be related to the scarcity of minority staff and multilingual activity vendors.


These services are especially important given rising attention to elderly loneliness. Our studies find that 39 per cent of Singaporean seniors report being lonely, and that this group lives three to five years less, on average, compared to their peers.


CAREGIVING IS A FORM OF WORK

The other initiative that may change the caregiving landscape is the Community Care Apartments, the first of which are estimated for completion in Bukit Batok next year. Besides having elder-friendly fittings, these HDB flats will also have care staff who will visit regularly and assist with emergencies, laundry, meals and other tasks - taking on some of the load previously borne by family caregivers.


Such assisted living services are popular in many Western countries, where family caregiving is less of a cultural norm. It remains to be seen whether Singaporeans will feel comfortable with such a system, and how service quality can be maintained.


Singaporeans also need to think about whether they wish their loved ones (and themselves) to spend their later years cared for by professional services, or by friends and family.

If it is the latter, then we must find a way to recognise family caregiving as a form of work and ensure that caregivers are themselves provided for with CPF top-ups and other forms of retirement safety nets.


The two groups of Singaporeans we highlighted above will eventually indirectly benefit, in terms of their work situation, through Healthier SG and Age Well SG. However, it will take time for such indirect benefits to accrue. It is worth considering extending more support to them in the meantime.


Jeremy Lim-Soh is Research Fellow and Rahul Malhotra is Deputy Director and Head of Research at the Centre for Ageing Research & Education, Duke-NUS Medical School.


Lim-Soh, J. (2023, August 26). Commentary: More support may be needed for Singapore seniors who can no longer work. CNA. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/commentary/national-day-rally-2023-majulah-package-senior-cpf-work-retire-health-caregiving-3724081

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