Turn longevity into a positive force: PM Lee

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong takes part in the leaders' "Retreat 1" at the annual 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Manila on November 19, 2015.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday urged world leaders to see the ageing population as a force that can power economies.

Amid the challenges longevity imposes on fast-ageing societies, it also brings opportunities when viewed in a friendlier way.

Longer lives mean more time for people to achieve their goals and aspirations. For economies, it could mean tapping the elderly for the workforce, especially with falling birth rates, he told fellow world leaders in Manila.

"Some fear that this will be a silver tsunami which will overwhelm us... but there are also opportunities in longevity," he said at the Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders' Meeting in Manila.

"We need to... turn longevity into a positive force for economic and social development."

He was speaking about the challenges that ageing can pose to inclusive growth, a theme of the summit.

Populations around the world are ageing rapidly, with people living longer and having fewer babies. A World Economic Forum report on ageing says the number of people aged 60 and older will hit two billion by 2050, making up 22 per cent of the world population.

In Singapore, one in five people will be 65 and older by 2030.

These changes will have a profound economic and social impact on societies, said PM Lee, adding that concerns about burdening the young and taxing healthcare and fiscal systems are valid.

Yet, opportunities abound for societies willing to transform and adapt, he said.

Mr Lee outlined how Singapore is working to be more age-friendly. First, by helping seniors stay active and healthy for longer; second, by providing adequate safety nets in housing, retirement adequacy and healthcare for seniors who may need extra help; and third, by improving physical infrastructure with lifts, among others, for seniors to move about independently and freely.

A $3 billion plan was unveiled in August to help Singaporeans age confidently and lead active lives.

He cited initiatives such as further raising the re-employment age to 67 and the Government giving firms financial incentives to make jobs and workplaces more senior-friendly.

"Many people in their 60s tell me 'If I sit at home and do nothing, I will soon go blank and ga-ga. I need to work longer. I want to work longer'."

On safety nets, he cited Medi- Shield Life, the lifelong universal healthcare insurance for large hospitalisation expenses.

"By doing this, we can minimise the burden of ageing and maximise the contributions that old people can make, and make sure they feel they are an inclusive part of society and strengthen our resilient community," he said.

Later, at a press conference with the Singapore media, Mr Lee said tensions may develop between the young and the old.

But he has this advice: "If we take it as we're all young today, we will all be old one day, then I think you will be more empathetic of the other person's needs and more willing to chip in and do your part."

This article was first published on Nov 20, 2015.
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