When leaning on kids is not a choice for elderly

Last week, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong went on radio to take questions on several National Day Rally announcements, and a retiree called to ask if the Government would consider a lease buyback scheme for private property owners.

That reminded me of requests from asset-rich and cash-poor elderly Singaporeans for more aid, and I asked myself why such seniors expect help when they are not even poor. I wondered if elderly people too are developing an entitlement mindset like young people are often accused of.

Anecdotally at least, it seems they are turning more to the Government for assistance, or at least are expecting more.

During the same radio programme, for example, another caller praised the Government for providing health subsidies to elderly people through the Pioneer Generation Package. But in the same breath, he asked if the Government would also provide financial aid for seniors who want to go back to school or pursue a hobby.

I am not against the Government providing for elderly people, especially those who have toiled their entire lives but did not manage to save enough for themselves. It is through their efforts that younger Singaporeans like myself enjoy the life that we do in modern Singapore. Many of them do not have the option of turning to their children, who may also be finding it hard to make ends meet.

Yet, it is worrying that even those seniors who have done fairly well are turning first to the Government for help, instead of looking upon it as the last resort.

The family is regarded as the best way to provide a secure environment for children to grow up in, and to look after the elderly. The assumption has been that children should be the first line of defence for elderly parents needing help.

But increasingly, elderly people themselves seem to feel they should not lean on their children so much, which is probably why the Government has been receiving more cries for help. In a 2010 survey commissioned by the then National Family Council, about seven in 10 of the 1,500 people surveyed said their aged parents should be living with them. Researchers said this means filial piety is valued.

But a more telling finding is of older respondents saying they preferred to live on their own. One reason cited was that they did not want to burden their children.

During an Institute of Policy Studies forum on retirement in July, Dr Kanwaljit Soin, former president of Women's Initiative for Ageing Successfully, alluded to the same.

When making a plea for a very basic needs-based pension scheme, she said it would "give dignity to older people, so they don't have to stretch out their hand to ask for money from their children".

It is sad to think that elderly people might feel that way about depending on their children, especially if they have provided for their offspring.

Even if the Government has shown that it is more receptive to stepping in, as a society we might need to consider whether we would want such a system. For one thing, it could mean that some of the limited public funds would be diverted away from those who are truly in need.

Besides, even if government financial help for elderly people is forthcoming, it is surely a poor substitute for the security of knowing that one can depend on one's children and family.


This article was first published on September 07, 2014.
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