Why It Matters

Reframing the ageing issue

Singapore's seniors are getting a care package that will help them make the best of their golden years.
Singapore's seniors are getting a care package that will help them make the best of their golden years.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

Last Wednesday, seniors got some welcome news - a $3 billion action plan to create opportunities for them to learn, volunteer and live well, even after retirement.

The new Action Plan for Successful Ageing, spearheaded by the Ministerial Committee on Ageing, has been a year in the making.

It was formulated after focus group discussions and online consultations with more than 4,000 people, young and old, to find out their aspirations as they enter their golden years.

The five-year plan covers areas such as health, infrastructure, lifelong learning and even research, to ensure Singapore's greying population will be able to age well.

But the plan goes beyond just another package of goodies for seniors. As Ms Peh Kim Choo, director of the Tsao Foundation's Hua Mei Centre for Successful Ageing, pointed out, this is "a complete reframing" of the ageing issue.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, much of the official discourse on ageing revolved around the problems to be caused by the so-called silver tsunami. The elderly were seen as a burden to society, and even began to see themselves that way.

But by 2030, it is estimated that 900,000 people - or a fifth of the population - will be aged over 65. Even with the re-employment age set to be raised to 67 by 2017, rising life expectancy means that most people will likely live a good 10 to 15 years past their working years.

This is why the new action plan, which focuses on opportunities for seniors beyond retirement, is important.

While perennial issues like healthy living continue to be a mainstay under the plan's National Seniors' Health Programme, the real centrepiece is the creation of new opportunities for seniors to learn and volunteer.

This sends an important signal that ageing is not about an eventual decline, but another stage of life where one's skills and talents can be put to good use.

It encourages people to learn for learning's sake, and give back to society in a way they might not have had the time for while they were still working.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2015, with the headline 'Reframing the ageing issue'. Print Edition | Subscribe