Pioneer generation: Help with out-of-pocket expenses

At the age of 80, Mr Tan Khwee Sen finds that what should be his golden years are tarnished by money worries.

Mr Tan’s Central Provident Fund money is dwindling and he has less than $10,000 in savings which he reckons will run out in his mid-80s. Meanwhile, he earns $300 a month helping out with a friend’s insurance paperwork.

But medicine for an artery problem and quarterly visits to his doctor cost him $1,500 annually, of which only $400 is covered by Medisave.

Mr Tan and his 70-year-old wife, who declined to be named, spend about $500 a month, and he has cut down on “unnecessary items” such as entertainment.

He is among the “pioneer generation” – elderly citizens who contributed to Singapore’s economic progress in their youth and are now in their 70s or above. Though most are retired, many may not have enough savings to live on comfortably.

“I don’t have much income – I’m a poor man now. But I want to be independent,” says a proud Mr Tan, who has about $40,000 left in his CPF Retirement Account. Mrs Tan is a housewife.

Mr Tan’s first job – in 1959 – involved interviewing fish and pig farmers for the now-defunct Primary Production Department.

Says Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad: “Many (of the pioneer generation) were not adequately saving over time because of the way Singapore was in the past. They were not covered by CPF in their early working years and their wages weren’t high.”

Mr Zaqy adds that in the newer housing estates, where many senior citizens live in studio apartments or with their children, supermarkets have replaced wet markets of old, which offered cheaper goods.

These pioneers want more of their expenses, such as medication, to be covered for them, MPs tell Insight.

Marine Parade GRC MP Tin Pei Ling, who is in charge of the Circuit Road area where Mr Tan lives, says: “The elderly are concerned about out-of-pocket expenses.”

As for Mr Tan, he would only turn to his two working children for money as a last resort: “I rather they save for their future. One day, they will also get old. If I draw too much on them, it’s like slicing off their money.”

This article was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 18, 2014