Budget debate: Government to relook how to help growing pool of seniors with different needs

Retiree Mike Goh (centre) said that his work and involvement in various activities has allowed him to meet more people. PHOTO: COURTESY OF MIKE GOH

SINGAPORE - Mr Mike Goh, 74, is enjoying his retirement by working part-time as an exhibition guide and volunteering as a digital ambassador to help other seniors make use of technology in their lives.

As the population ages, there will be more like him who are living longer, better educated and have differing needs.

To better meet their needs, the Government will launch an updated action plan for successful ageing next year, said Second Minister for Health Masagos Zulkifli during the debate on his ministry's budget on Friday (March 5).

The previous effort to reframe ageing - a $3 billion action plan for successful ageing - was launched in 2015.

It focused on creating opportunities for seniors to learn, volunteer and live independently, well after retirement.

The re-employment age was raised from 65 to 67 in 2017, more day centres for the elderly were built and the Pioneer and Merdeka Generation Packages were rolled out.

Mr Zulkifli said great progress has been made since the launch of the first action plan in 2015 but "plans must continue to evolve to meet the needs and aspirations of current and future seniors".

"Achieving these aspirations is only possible through a whole-of-society, citizen-centric effort that brings together everyone to 'turn silver into gold'," he said.

He revealed that since October last year, MOH has started engagement sessions to partner Singaporeans from all walks of life to co-create the refreshed action plan.

These include focus group discussions on a wide variety of topics such as retirement adequacy, digital participation for seniors, as well as active ageing programmes and surveys.

On Wednesday, the Government said that it will raise the retirement age here by a year to 63 and the re-employment age to 68 as planned on July 1 next year. Singapore aims to raise these by another two years by the end of the decade.

At a Singapore Management University event to launch survey findings from its Centre for Research on Successful Ageing (Rosa), centre director Paulin Straughan called for the Government to do this sooner than later.

"We sometimes think of this group as retirees and therefore, we don't look too hard at their employment opportunities," said Prof Straughan.

"Our data consistently tells us that employment and employability remain key concerns for the 55ers and even those in the 70s."

Indeed, said Prof Straughan: "We should not look at them as liabilities, doing jobs that people do not want. That would be tragic for Singapore, where we have only human resource.

"We should look deeper into the value that they can bring to the work space; their life experiences (is something) you can't find in the younger pre-55 age group."

Mr Goh, for one, is only too glad to be able to contribute to society, especially as his own views on ageing changed as he aged.

"When I was younger, I wanted to retire early to enjoy my retirement. But when you really retire, suddenly you will find that you're lost," said Mr Goh, who retired at the age of 63.

"Now, if you ask me, I would definitely encourage people to work, especially as people are living longer."

Mr Goh, who also goes for courses every year to learn new things, said that his work and involvement in various activities has allowed him to meet more people, who have opened up many opportunities for him.

Through his work as a guide for the Dialogue With Time - Embracing Ageing exhibition at the Singapore Science Centre, he has met like-minded friends who have come together to form a weekly taiji group, he said.

"Older people do not want to be taken as a liability, as they will start to build up a complex: 'I am old, no one wants me.' Having your own money helps you to build self-esteem," he said.

These days, Mr Goh lives with a clear purpose. "Every year, I plan my volunteer work, I plan my lifelong learning. The objective is to give back to society," he said.

"My advice to seniors is to step out of your comfort journey and do something challenging."

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