Role models for state-sponsored retirement exist

I support Dr Patrick Liew Siow Gian's suggestions on improving financial literacy among senior citizens, and educating them on retirement planning ("Extend helping hand, not handouts, to retirees"; Sept 19).

However, it seems that his views on the necessity of state-assisted retirement are divorced from the reality of the situation.

Foremost, I contest his characterisation of retirement as a concept.

Humans are not economic tools to be used until they are fully exhausted. It is imperative that the option of withdrawing from work in old age remains viable; not doing so would be an affront to human dignity.

The rest of his argument is premised on the assumption that "there are no clear success stories" of state-sponsored retirement funds "to act as models for the rest of the world".

Notwithstanding the fact that Singapore's Central Provident Fund already provides a promising case study, let us examine nations that have implemented generous welfare and pension programmes, such as the Nordic countries.

In the Global Competitiveness Report 2015-2016, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark all ranked within the top 15 worldwide. This indicates that workforce participation, productivity and a strong work ethic are still very much present despite the availability of government handouts.

This disproves the assertions that retirement benefits would "erode our work ethos and fighting spirit", or that the taxation needed to support the scheme would make it harder for businesses to "compete with their counterparts overseas".

Moreover, these countries, especially Norway, have successfully used sovereign wealth funds and strategic investments to sustain their pension schemes, even in the face of an ageing population. This is not dissimilar to how Singapore's CPF Board manages and grows citizens' contributions.

This, again, contrasts with the argument that states are having difficulty financing retirement funds.

Most importantly, it must be recognised that "people's attitude, knowledge and skills" are not, in themselves, sufficient to guarantee an acceptable standard of living in retirement.

In my previous letter ("Don't miss out on life's best chapter"; Sept 7), I stressed that meritocracy and proportionate reward for work do not always hold true. Hard-working and well-prepared individuals can be - and often are - unfairly punished by the vicissitudes of fate.

For these individuals who slip through the cracks, state assistance is not just desirable, but essential.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2016, with the headline 'Role models for state-sponsored retirement exist'. Print Edition | Subscribe