Move away from individual to collective caregiving

A caregiver pushing an elderly woman on a wheelchair, on Jan 23, 2019.
A caregiver pushing an elderly woman on a wheelchair, on Jan 23, 2019.PHOTO: ST FILE

The new Caregiver Support Action Plan, which strengthens government support for senior caregiving (Concerted caring for caregivers, Feb 21), sidesteps two fundamental and related challenges of caregiving in Singapore.

First, the over-reliance on individual caregivers - either family members who have to make personal sacrifices and who are subject to physical and psychological stress, or foreign domestic workers who are often overstretched in the household and who receive remuneration that is not commensurate with their work and living conditions.

Second, the urgent need to strengthen communities and institutions for caregiving, emphasising not only the self-reliance of individual or family-based systems, but also the further professionalisation of the sector and improvements for productivity gains.

The continued reliance on individual caregivers is unlikely to be sustainable in Singapore.

The expected fall of the country's old-age support ratio from 4.8 last year to 2.1 in 2030 means fewer family members for each older Singaporean.

And it is well-established that the experience of senior caregiving can be isolating and depressing.

In the even longer term, these senior caregivers - who are unable to accrue substantial savings or work experience - might end up requiring caregiving themselves, further perpetuating an unhealthy cycle.

What is more urgently needed is a move away from individual to collective caregiving.

Grants, respite options and other support initiatives are useful in the short term, but are not the answer to Singapore's ageing population.

For a start, Singapore would benefit from a more comprehensive understanding of existing caregiving patterns in the country, such as the preferred caregiving practices across time and the collective state of communities and institutions for caregiving.

How do they work together? Are options diverse, accessible, and affordable? And are families adequately informed to consider and choose from different caregiving options?

Ultimately, the question for all Singaporeans is: What type of caregiving do I want for myself, and what would that look like?

Kwan Jin Yao

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2019, with the headline 'Move away from individual to collective caregiving'. Print Edition | Subscribe