SINGAPORE - Employees should have the right to request flexible work arrangements and be entitled to six days of paid eldercare leave, said the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware).
These changes will help to support workers caring for older relatives and ensure that their own retirement nest eggs are not compromised by caregiving, the advocacy group said.
Announcing the results of a study involving interviews with 22 family caregivers and 22 care sector stakeholders, Aware's head of research and advocacy Shailey Hingorani said on Wednesday (Sept 18) that more caregiver support is needed, as Singaporeans can expect to face a growing family caregiving burden as a result of the ageing population.
"The filial piety demonstrated by family caregivers is truly something to admire, but we should recognise that devotion alone is not sustainable. It needs to be supported by more concrete assistance from the state," said Ms Hingorani.
The interviews were done from the middle of last year to July this year.
Supporting caregivers at work
The study found that taking on primary caregiving responsibilities resulted in a reduction of working hours or withdrawal from the workforce.
This caused the respondents - mostly unmarried women in their 50s and 60s caring for their elderly parents - to experience a loss in annual personal income of almost $57,000 on average, and an average loss of $7,700 a year in Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions.
Many of the respondents also said they were uncertain about their ability to rejoin the workforce later or progress in their careers due to factors such as age discrimination.
To counter this, the report recommended laws preventing workplace discrimination on the basis of age, gender and family responsibilities.
Support beyond the workplace
The report also called for the introduction of a caregiver support grant to help those who are not working.
It would include a cash component and a CPF component that could be matched to prevailing employer contribution rates and capped when the Basic Retirement Sum is reached.
Some respondents highlighted other difficulties they faced in caring for their relatives, such as a lack of care navigation or coordination services for those outside the hospital system.
This makes it difficult to make cost-benefit comparisons between available services, the report said.
To address this, Aware recommended expanding cluster support services, which are currently open to seniors who have little or no family support.
It also recommended regulating and licensing private providers of eldercare services to ensure that standards of care are met.
Study helps to fill research gap
Dr Rahul Malhotra, head of research at the Centre for Ageing Research and Education at Duke-NUS Medical School, said that not much research has been done on the financial impact of caregiving for older care recipients.
The study thus helps to fill a gap in existing research, he added.
While the sample size of 22 is small, the qualitative findings are detailed and valuable, said Dr Malhotra, who was not involved in the Aware study.
"This is a step in the right direction as we cannot inform policymaking without evidence. The recommendations should be studied by policymakers."
Aware said it plans to submit the report for consideration in next year's national Budget.