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They throw parents out over money

As PM urges S'poreans to take care of parents, counsellors say more children are leaving parents to homes and charities. -TNP

Thu, Aug 20, 2009
The New Paper

(ABANDONED: Counsellors say they see more elderly living alone or left to charities or homes by their families.)

By Liew Hanqing

THE things he has seen make him sigh.

Like the children who forced their mother to sell her flat and then distributed the money among themselves. When she fell sick, not one child was willing to pay her medical bills.

Stories like this upset Mr Lee Bock Guan, 64, president of the Singapore Buddhist Lodge.

He told The New Paper that up to three elderly people - usually in their 60s and 70s - seek help from the lodge each month because they can no longer rely on their children.

He said in Mandarin: 'Some of these old people are forced out of their homes because of disagreements with their children.

'They sometimes argue because their children try to convert them to a different religion, and they refuse.'

Some, he said, cannot get along with their children's spouses.

'The younger people may complain about some of their habits, and sometimes even go to the extent of threatening divorce - so the elderly folks have no choice but to leave,' he said.

Estranged from their children, these old people are often at their wits' end, Mr Lee said.

'These days, children can be really heartless. I know of a woman whose eight children forced her to sell her flat so they could take the money,' he said.

'She fell sick and was hospitalised, but none of her children was willing to pay her bills.'

Others, he said, leave their parents at nursing homes - and sometimes lapse in settling the bills for their parents' stay.

'I think the problem is that young people nowadays are becoming more money-minded,' he said.

In his National Day Rally speech on Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged Singaporeans not to shirk their responsibility of caring for their aged parents.

He said some Singaporeans were doing just that - by abandoning their parents in homes or hospitals.

This problem is likely to worsen as Singapore's population greys even more.

The numbers are sobering - according to statistics from the National Population Secretariat, the proportion of Singapore residents aged 65 and above increased from 6.8 per cent in 1998 to 8.7 per cent last year.

Mr Gerard Ee, chairman of Council for Third Age, an independent body which promotes active ageing, said it was increasingly common for children to abandon their aged parents.

He said there was a need for 'ground rules' to keep those who do not bear the responsibility of caring for their parents in check.

He said: 'At the end of the day, it is a matter of doing one's part for the community. Those who can afford it should care for their own parents.

'If they don't, it is the rest of society that must bear the cost. That cannot be right.

'It is a different matter if somebody has fallen into hard times and cannot afford to care for their parents. In that case, they should receive help.'

Hectic schedules

Mr Alwyn Chia, communications manager of Lions Befrienders Service Association (LBSA), a VWO for the elderly, said some working adults just don't have time, with hectic work schedules and family commitments.

'In addition, more and more adults are working or venturing overseas,' he said.

As a result, Mr Chia said that of late, LBSA has seen more cases of elderly people who are left to fend for themselves.

Just giving money isn't enough, he said. What is sorely lacking is social and psycho-emotional support.

'These elderly folk are left to live alone and have to perform the activities of daily living by themselves. Their children do visit them but these visits are not frequent,' he said.

LBSA Volunteers visit these elderly people every week and keep the organisation updated on their well-being.

'In the event that the elderly folk require other forms of assistance - such as home meal delivery services, laundry, housekeeping and medical escort services - we will refer them to other relevant agencies,' Mr Chia said.

He said younger Singaporeans need to spend more time with their parents - especially if they are not living together, and should be more active in community-based support systems such as befriending elderly people in their homes.

Assistant Professor Joonmo Son from the National University of Singapore's department of Sociology said this lack of responsibility may relegate the elderly to a state of severe poverty.

He said: 'We are living in a world where traditional values, such as Confucian obligation to old parents, are fading away while the individualistic world view prevails.'

The labour market, he said, now operates the 'family wage system', which supports only the nuclear family of the employed individuals.

'People are not equipped with the material means and ideological legacy to support their elderly parents,' he said.

He added it is necessary to make it clear at the institutional level whose responsibility it should be to take care of the elderly population - whether economically, socially, or psychologically.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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