6 issues on watch list

6 issues on watch list

1 The silver lobby

The Government pledged last year to increase help for the pioneer generation of Singaporeans to bridge a gap in skills and income between many of the old and young.

As Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said, not only has globalisation played a factor in widening inequality, but also Singapore's rapid improvement in education in less than 50 years has exacerbated that effect.

Hence, he said, there is a disproportionate number of middle- and high-paying jobs taken up by younger Singaporeans. Singaporeans who are 55 and older, on the other hand, make up half of those in the bottom 10 per cent of the working population.

The pioneer generation consists of Singaporeans in their late 60s, some of whom may have little savings and income and find it difficult to cope with the higher cost of living and health care.

Says Singapore Management University law academic and Nominated MP Eugene Tan: "This is the generation that has provided the foundation for Singapore's success through their hard work, sacrifices and forbearance, but for some, the success of Singapore may seem to have passed them by."

This widening gap has a political impact. Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) senior research fellow Gillian Koh says: "The seniors of Singapore are a key political constituency - we are after all an ageing society."

The number of residents aged 65 years or older is increasing rapidly. It will multiply three times from the current 300,000 to 900,000 in 2030, when one in every five residents will be a senior.

An IPS survey done after the 2011 GE found that a larger share of those in the 65 and above age category are swing voters, compared with 2006, increasing from 35.2 per cent to 45.4 per cent.

This year, the Government is set to announce its Pioneer Generation Package during the Budget.

It has also launched a major review of the national health insurance scheme Medishield to extend coverage for life to all. A review committee headed by Mr Bobby Chin, a former managing partner at accounting firm KPMG Singapore, will submit its proposal to the Government in May.

But this will not be without its challenges.

Already, with the impending changes, Singaporeans are worried about rising insurance premiums, especially as they age.

The ruling People's Action Party (PAP) will also increase support and advocacy for the elderly through its new seniors group, PAP.SG, set up at its last party conference last month.

Mr Inderjit Singh, an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, says: "With the continuously rising cost of living in Singapore, the most vulnerable group of Singaporeans are the elderly who are either retired or earn very low incomes and this group will continue to grow.

"While the younger low-income earners can go through training to improve themselves to get better-paying jobs, the elderly have less of a chance of doing such upgrading.

"So it is to be expected that the Government has to continue to focus on the elderly low-income or zero-income earners."

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