Adequate social security will enhance filial piety

There is a Chinese saying, that in a prosperous society, filial piety is hard to come by in poor families.

The logic of this is simple - if a family is struggling to make ends meet, it obviously lacks the means to care for its elders. By extension, the elders have no government social safety net to fall back on.

Governing an inclusive society should entail providing adequate social security for the elderly and the infirm. This has little, if any, bearing on filial piety ("Excessive social security may erode filial piety" by Mr Leslie Fong; March 29).

One crucial thing we must understand is that filial piety has cultural rather than economic roots.

Many systems of faith and values, especially the Confucian tradition that has been so influential in the Sinic world, exhort followers to revere and provide for their parents and their elders.

Such compulsion creates a degree of motivation that transcends material considerations and defies transactional thought.

Consider China, the cradle of Confucianism, as a prime example.

The Chinese state provides a considerable social safety net, in terms of a relatively strong national pension scheme, as well as various provisions, such as medical insurance, nearly-universal healthcare and unemployment benefits.

In recent decades, China has made leaps and bounds in reducing rural poverty and deprivation. Indeed, the extent of social security coverage was praised by the World Bank in a 2013 report.

In theory, this would reduce the impetus for children to be filial to their parents, knowing that the state would be there to care for the elders on their behalf.

Nevertheless, sons and daughters working in the prosperous cities of the eastern seaboard continue to send remittances back to their parents in the rural hinterland, simply because it remains a personal obligation enforced by a longstanding cultural narrative.

During peak national holiday periods, there still exists an exodus of workers from the urban centres, returning home to their parents for family reunions.

This provides a clear illustration of how the culture of filial piety can endure, despite the presence of a fairly developed welfare state.

In any case, preserving filial piety is a secondary consideration.

Given the socioeconomic inequality that exists in Singapore society today, there remains a pressing need to protect the marginalised and the disadvantaged from falling through the cracks.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi