MANILA - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday urged world leaders to see an ageing population as a force that can power economies.
The phenomenon, which poses challenges to many countries, also brings opportunities for societies that are willing to look at longevity with more friendly eyes, he said.
Longer lives mean more time for people to achieve their goals and aspirations, provided they remain healthy. And for countries with low replacement rates, having more elderly can make up for having fewer babies, especially if the older workers can achieve life-long employability, he added.
"Some fear that this will be a silver tsunami which will overwhelm us...but there are also opportunities in longevity," he added. "We need to transform our societies and economies to become more age-friendly, and turn longevity into a positive force for economic and social development."
Mr Lee made the remarks at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders Meeting, at which he spoke about the challenges of bring an ageing population into the inclusive growth framework.
Populations around the world are ageing rapidly, with people living longer and having fewer babies. A World Economic Forum report on ageing says the number of people who are 60 years and older will more than double, from 760 million in 2011 to about two billion by 2050. By then, this group will make up 22 per cent of the world population.
Singapore, one of the fastest-ageing countries in the world, will have one in five people aged 65 and older by 2030.
These changes will have a profound economic and social impact on societies, Mr Lee said.
Some fear the increased burden on the young and the healthcare and fiscal systems, all of which are valid concerns, he said.
Yet, there are also opportunities for societies that are willing to adapt to the ageing trend.
To do so, Singapore is transforming in three ways.
First, it is helping seniors stay active and healthy for longer. The Government has plans to raise the re-employment age further, to 67 years old, and is also providing financial incentives for companies to make jobs and workplaces more senior-friendly.
Most recently, it launched the SkillsFuture initiative, which gives workers credits for courses they can take to upgrade themselves at any age.
"Many people in their 60s tell me 'If I sit at home and do nothing, I will soon go blank and 'ga-ga'. I need to work longer. I want to work longer'," Mr Lee said.
Second, safety nets in housing, retirement adequacy and healthcare were also strengthened, to give seniors peace of mind, he added.
There is the Central Provident Fund (CPF) that ensures retirement adequacy, and the new Medishield Life, the universal healthcare insurance which will help to cover large hospitalisation expenses for life, said Mr Lee.
Lastly, he said, infrastructure - in public transport, public housing, and parks - are being refreshed for the elderly to move around the city independently, confidently and freely.
"We think that by doing this, we can minimise the burden of ageing and maximise the contributions that old people can make and make sure they feel an inclusive part of society and strengthen our resilient community," he said.