Extend helping hand, not handouts, to retirees

While having the state support the people's retirement can be appealing, it may expose Singapore to unintended consequences ("Don't miss out on life's best chapter" by Mr Paul Chan Poh Hoi; Sept 7).

Such a policy means the state endorses the assumption that retirement is an imperative and "life's best chapter".

This assumption is not backed by convincing evidence. Furthermore, once implemented, it will be hard to withdraw the benefits. It will also raise many questions.

Will it promote a culture of helplessness, erode our work ethos and fighting spirit, and weaken our resolve for self-reliance and continuous improvement?

Will it place pressure on those who find meaning in work and believe they should continue to contribute to the community and economy?

How will it affect our manpower supply, economy and growth in the long term?

Many countries, especially those in the West, have adopted a state-sponsored retirement policy. However, there are no clear success stories to act as models for the rest of the world. What we see is how the state and future generations are under pressure to finance such a policy. Political elections have also been turned into an auction for the best welfare offerings.

Indeed, we need to ask ourselves: How can we finance such a policy, considering that spending will only increase over the years with a fast-ageing population?

There will inevitably be an increase in the overall tax base.

This will raise the cost of running businesses. Businesses will find it harder to compete with their counterparts overseas, which could result in more retrenchments and lower tax revenue.

There could be a rise in prices and a larger financial burden on consumers. Additional resources would then be needed to help retrenched workers and retirees, creating a vicious circle that will have negative effects on our peace, prosperity and progress.

Having a state-sponsored retirement plan can only resolve the symptoms, not the causes, of a negative retirement lifestyle.

What is needed is a helping hand, not handouts, to strengthen incomes, savings, investments and other factors that contribute to retirement lifestyles.

The more important focus is to improve the people's attitude, knowledge and skills.

Helping people improve their financial literacy, competence and productivity will ensure that they have a more stable, secure and sustainable career and retirement.

In this way, they will enjoy greater dignity and fulfilment in the later years of their lives.

Patrick Liew Siow Gian (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2016, with the headline 'Extend helping hand, not handouts, to retirees'. Print Edition | Subscribe