Question: Why did the PAP set up the PAP Seniors' Group which you are chairing, and what are your key priorities for this group?
Halimah Yacob (HY): Because of the rapidly ageing population, the number of people who are sick, the number of elderly people have increased tremendously. So the party wanted to have greater focus on their needs and how to serve them - very much like what we have done for the women as well as the young.
The objective of PAP.SG is essentially to raise issues, or to up-shape policies and programmes on cross-cutting issues affecting our seniors on matters like their quality of life, manner of their care as well as their security.
We also want to look at ways of encouraging greater volunteerism, both among our healthy seniors as well as the young people to support our seniors.
We need to look at also the innovative practices in order to reach out to our seniors and support them.
Q: We've been hearing talk of Singapore's rapidly ageing population for some years now. How ready, really, is Singapore?
HY: Quite a number of reports have already been produced, committee set up and recommendations made. In fact, in the infrastructure over the last two years, the government have announced to build more nursing homes and senior care centres, senior activity centres.. you know, these are being rolled out.
What I see as a big challenge for us is not so much in the infrastructure, but more in terms of the software, getting people - qualified people, professionals. For instance, we have enough physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and so on that is needed, in order to support all these various activities, to support the frail elderly. That is one challenge - manpower.
The second challenge I think will also be in the area of the caregivers. Caregivers are also themselves growing old, you know, they also need support.
Q: In a recent letter to The Straits Times forum page, you called for a different mindset which is non-ageist, and which challenges some of the assumptions which people may have about the elderly. Can you tell us more about that?
HY: There is still very much an ageist society. Sometimes, people might not even know they are being ageist.
I received many feedback from job applicants - elderly job applicants, and they say it is very difficult for them to get a job because sometimes when they call up the employer and they ask for the age, immediately when they inform the employer of their ages, the employer says the vacancy, the job has been filled.
They immediately come to the assumption that they will not be productive, they will not be adaptable and they cannot perform their jobs. Do we give them an opportunity? It's our mindset that determines whether we want to give the person an opportunity or not, regardless of the person's age.
We must give them options to let them think for themselves what they want to do with their lives, and not always come to the conclusion that just because someone who is older and who is working, therefore that person is forced to work. These are choices sometimes we must trust that they want to make for themselves too. We should not be so condescending in our mindsets and our attitudes.