The roll-out of the Silver Support Scheme, announced two years ago, is significant for putting in place an assurance of lifetime support for seniors who are at the bottom 20 to 30 per cent, materially. They are the ones who had managed with lower incomes over their working lives and consequently do not have sufficient or any CPF savings to tide them over in old age. This is a permanent plank of Singapore's social security structure which one cannot begrudge those who have helped to lay the foundations of a prosperous nation.
The extensive scheme will cost taxpayers nearly $320 million in the first year. Resolve for continued funding will be needed as the share of seniors doubles from one in eight now to one in four by 2030. Against this demographic reality, one might better appreciate current policies that promote higher incomes and continual training for less-skilled workers, for whom demand is evaporating - not just to improve their present situation but to also help them save for old age. The larger component of Workfare income supplements, for example, goes into their CPF accounts. Ideally, future retirees will be better equipped for their twilight years, so that Silver Support is applied to the most needy and not viewed as a baseline entitlement upon which retirement plans are built.
Silver support payments of $300 to $750 every quarter are modest but these must be seen as a supplement that's available on top of other benefits given to the elderly poor. These include GST vouchers, Workfare, ComCare Long Term Assistance and free medical treatment (for those getting public assistance), not to mention HDB lease buyback and free or subsidised social support services. They also get cash and kind from community groups.
None of these is meant to take the place of traditional sources of elder support, whether an individual's nest egg for old age or the helping hand of family members. Should demands for comprehensive state support for the old grow over time, one will have to contend with the risk of moral hazard, erosion of filial responsibility, calls for parity in other subsidised social fields, and attendant tax burdens.
Singaporeans should aspire to develop a model of successful ageing that they can be proud of. But, of course, this has to be done in a realistic and sustainable manner with the responsibilities shared equitably among all. For example, as important as finances is the overall physical, psychological and social well-being of seniors. This is the focus of the pilot project, Community Networks for Seniors. Rather than a suite of involved state-run schemes, what is needed is a model of widespread involvement of many coming together to address the needs of the aged.