'Widen net of support scheme for seniors'

Mr Wee Lin, chairman of Sunlove Abode, on why the scheme should be extended to all elderly people living in rental flats.
Mr Wee Lin, chairman of Sunlove Abode, on why the scheme should be extended to all elderly people living in rental flats.

Academics, social workers say many in need still fall through the cracks

The new financial support scheme for the elderly should cover a wider group of Singaporeans and not limit itself to just the poorest of Singaporeans.

This is because many older Singaporeans still fall through the cracks despite the number of social policies around, said social workers and academics.

This group would include low-wage workers, housewives, singles and widows, they said.

On Sunday, in his National Day Rally speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong introduced a new Silver Support scheme for needy Singaporeans when they turn 65.

He said the money will benefit the 10 per cent to 20 per cent of Singaporeans who have not saved up enough in their Central Provident Fund (CPF) accounts, do not own flats and are without family support.

The annual bonus is meant to supplement the payouts from the needy old folk's CPF accounts.

Mr Lee said details will be revealed in the Budget next year but social workers and academics are hoping that the scheme will be an inclusive one.

Dr Kang Soon Hock, head of the social science core at SIM University, said it was clear that the Government is aiming to help a large group of people.

"Ten to 20 per cent is not a small number. It is a clear indication that the Government is casting the net wider to beyond those under public assistance," he said.

There are around 3,000 people who receive public assistance. A single-person household gets up to $450 a month.

Still, there are many thousands of Singaporeans who do not get public assistance but continue to be in dire need of support, said social workers.

Mr Wee Lin, chairman of Sunlove Abode, a non-governmental organisation that takes care of needy Singaporeans, said the scheme should be extended to all elderly people living in rental flats.

"I know some families who cook a can of sardines and eat it for lunch and dinner. Sometimes they don't turn on the electricity to save money. That is how poor they are," he said.

Another group deserving of help are elderly low-wage workers, said Dr Lily Neo, a Member of Parliament for Tanjong Pagar GRC.

"These aunties and uncles earn around $1,000 for jobs such as cleaners or by working in coffee shops. They do not have much savings," she said.

Similarly, Dr Kang hopes to see the scheme extended to women in their sixties and older.

These women do not have much personal or CPF savings because they stayed at home for many years to raise families.

Dr Kanwaljit Soin, a former Nominated Member of Parliament, went one step further and said the Government should introduce a pension for all Singaporeans above a certain age, instead of limiting it to a specific group.

Her suggestion is to give all Singaporeans above 80 years old $200 a month.

This could set the Government back around $200 million a year.

But Dr Soin said: "That is not a lot of money for a rich country like Singapore. The fact is these old people will spend the money on food, transport or on their grandchildren."