'Zoom in on new opportunities that longevity brings'

Residents (from left) Tee Hock Ban, 53, Koh Chat Ngi, 67, Looi Hong Teck, 62, Phua Kok How, 73, and Sua Hin Poh, 62, at the community kitchen started by the senior activity centre Goodlife! in Marine Parade.
Residents (from left) Tee Hock Ban, 53, Koh Chat Ngi, 67, Looi Hong Teck, 62, Phua Kok How, 73, and Sua Hin Poh, 62, at the community kitchen started by the senior activity centre Goodlife! in Marine Parade.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Amy Khor calls for a change in how people view ageing, envisaging a 'nation for all ages'

Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor yesterday sketched out her vision of a "nation for all ages", an inclusive society that requires people to change the way they view ageing.

She called on Singaporeans to focus on the opportunities a longer-living population brings, instead of fearing the "silver tsunami" and its attendant problems.

Dr Khor said the advantages of longevity abound for the individual, the community and the country. At the individual level, long life can mean more years of earning an income, and the chance to enjoy new experiences and careers.

For the community, it can be a unifying cause, as residents and grassroots organisations strive to create programmes that embrace seniors.

Citing senior activity centre Goodlife! in Marine Parade, she said it started a community kitchen for the many elderly residents living alone in Marine Terrace.

The kitchen is in the void deck of their block and the seniors "come down, cook together, eat together and clean together," she said.

SEE SENIORS AS ASSETS

Our older workers are often perceived to be less productive, set in their ways, less healthy and costing more. Thus, we make them cheaper so that they can be more employable.

Senior workers who put in the same amount of effort and time at work as everyone else, generating similar output, receive less in employer's Central Provident Fund contribution or have their benefits and wages reduced at re-employment.

Why should older workers be discriminated against in terms of their age, and be seen more as a cost and liability, instead of as assets with experience and loyalty?

We should do more to change the mindsets of employers and colleagues and to provide incentives to companies to restructure their workplace to enhance the productivity of our senior workers.

We can do more to entrench a fair and just re-employment framework, and continue to narrow the gap of their employer's CPF contribution so as to enable them to embrace productive and fulfilling ageing.

MR DAVID ONG (Jurong GRC), while talking about not leaving behind Singaporeans on the margins, such as single mothers, elderly workers and people with mental illness.

At the national level, the elderly present a new market for savvy businessmen, just like younger people do for the smartphone market and social media marketing.

Dr Khor, who is also Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, said: "Just as we have turned our water insecurity into path-breaking water technology solutions - highly sought after even by other countries - we need to reframe our ageing problem as a platform for us to innovate and create new opportunities."

She added that the Government will continue working with companies to be more elderly friendly and strengthen laws to protect the vulnerable elderly. But Singaporeans also have to buy into the idea of a city for all ages, she said.

Families must provide care and support for their elderly members, neighbours should look out for one another, and businesses need to see older workers as an asset. Older workers, too, must be willing to adapt and keep learning, she added.

"The vision of a distinctive nation for all ages I have sketched out may sound impossibly hard to achieve because it means changing thought patterns and ingrained practices.

"But challenges have never deterred us, as Singaporeans, from striving to build an exceptional nation. We can apply that to population ageing," Dr Khor said.

Dr Chia Shi-Lu (Tanjong Pagar GRC) also called for greater societal support for the elderly, saying the principle of "ageing-in-place" should be "robustly defended".

He noted that 80 per cent of the heads of families aged 65 and older want to spend their silver years in their existing flats. They are also keen to stay close to long-time neighbours.

Hence, he cheered the government programme that lets up to six neighbours select replacement flats together when Tanglin Halt estate is redeveloped.

"This social glue is important. We want to see as many Singaporeans as possible grow old with dignity in the community where they have spent the better part of their lives."

Dr Chia, an orthopaedic surgeon, offered suggestions to the Health Ministry on eldercare.

He urged it to hasten the development of alternatives to nursing homes, and called for public education to make young and middle-aged Singaporeans more aware of the need to plan for old age.

He said insurers should be given a bigger role in long-term care financing. The Government can also provide more funding to develop mobility aides, monitoring devices and robotics that help the elderly, he added."Let us work together to help our senior citizens remain healthy... and provide options for them to age in the community," Dr Chia said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2016, with the headline ''Zoom in on new opportunities that longevity brings''. Print Edition | Subscribe