S'pore can handle ageing population

SINGAPORE - I am more optimistic than senior health correspondent Salma Khalik in her commentary ("Lessons from Japan on an ageing population"; last Tuesday). Singapore is in a better position than Japan to deal with an ageing population and flagging workforce.

Though healthy senior citizens with sufficient money can enjoy their golden years, society must also provide adequate social security, elderly-friendly infrastructure and health-care facilities to protect the frail who have severe ailments.

Japan has national pension schemes to protect the poorer elderly from falling through the cracks, with quality nursing homes and universal health coverage providing almost free medical care till death.

Our system is not longevity- friendly. When our elderly have exhausted their personal savings, the tedious social assistance process begins. The shrinking value of savings against today's rapid inflation means what was considered sufficient can now be depleted halfway through retirement.

Most poor elderly are also living in a transformed world, where filial piety as a core value has gone out the window and parental abuse is more rampant.

Only the Singapore Government can do more to match Japan's ageing process in terms of comfort and grace.

Our open socio-economic system can cope better than Japan's close-knit system in addressing an ageing population, through young adult immigration, boosting low birth rates and bolstering economic growth.

We have English as a lingua franca, an advantage when attracting foreigners to support the economy. With healthy gross domestic product growth and huge reserves, Singapore can adopt a normative approach to graceful ageing.

The Government could serve as a role model of filial piety for its poor ageing citizens. It could provide free medical treatments and more elderly-friendly institutional care to help those who fail to meet the Central Provident Fund minimum sum requirement.

Longevity will be meaningful to the elderly only if society respects their existence with grace and dignity.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

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