Potential conflicts between young and old flagged at panel

Older pedestrians must now contend with young people on bicycles and e-scooters, with both groups having to navigate the shared pavements.

Similarly, there could be "contestation" over the allocation of resources to older citizens and to developing the young, Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee said yesterday.

She pointed to the unhappiness that could arise if taxes continue to go up to pay for hefty health costs as the population ages. "Will this result in younger Singaporeans demanding a reduction in older citizens' benefits? I am sure there is a tipping point," she said.

Singapore has not yet reached that point, said the veteran Singapore diplomat, who delved into the potential conflict between the young and old during a panel discussion on the political and social dimensions of ageing.

But though generational wars sound far-fetched, generational conflict and tensions do exist in Asia and in the West, she added.

"In Asia, culture, tradition and context will play a role in shaping the acceptance of burdens and the allocations of resources," she said.

Singaporeans generally support policies that give social support to the needy, noted Professor Chan, who is chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at the Singapore University of Technology and Design. She questioned, however, if the tolerance for tax increases will remain.

Jobs could be another source of tension between generations as Singaporeans age, she said. New jobs must be created for seniors to replace roles removed through automation, while there will also be pressure from young people who want to move into top roles occupied by seniors.

A Raffles Girls' School student highlighted this emerging generational conflict, when she asked if the use of technology to help seniors do their jobs would artificially skew the job market in their favour. If the senior in question is actually incapable of doing that job, wouldn't it be unfair to younger people who are searching for and working hard for jobs, she asked.

Prof Chan replied that enabling technology does not help those who are unable to work. Rather, it can make up for the loss of strength or other qualities due to ageing.

In fact, a lot of money is spent on education for the young, through schools, good facilities and overseas exchanges, she said.

Medical professor and Singapore Democratic Party chairman Paul Tambyah commented that the younger generation feel they do not enjoy good job prospects because of older people holding on to positions. Prof Chan said that for solidarity and harmony, older people could opt to take a lower pay package so some of that money can be used to create new jobs.

At a separate panel session, DBS chief executive Piyush Gupta suggested a future work system that balances the job needs of both young and old. He noted that technology will reduce the number of jobs in organised sectors and large corporations, while the gig economy will be more widespread.

Seniors - who have more "crystallised intelligence" and some money saved - would be better equipped to be part of the gig economy and take on entrepreneurial roles, and there should be a social support system to help them do so, he said. For young people joining the workforce, it will also be important to create a flow of jobs that they can move into in a systematic way.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2018, with the headline 'Potential conflicts between young and old flagged at panel'. Print Edition | Subscribe