In hot-paced Singapore where welfarism is a dirty word,
the lowly-skilled aged could head for tougher times. By
Seah Chiang Nee.
Mar 4, 2007
DESPITE economic prosperity, more and more elderly Singaporeans
past retirement age are working as cleaners or toilet attendants,
instead of playing with grandchildren.
That they are opting to work past 62 years of age is not
surprising and, in fact, could be a plus point. After all,
Singapore’s life expectancy is 81.7 years, the world’s
third highest, even ahead of Japan (81.25 years).
But what is not savvy about it is they are doing the sort
of menial work once done by unskilled foreign workers. Some
35.7% are cleaners or related work, where incomes are low.
not that the elderly don’t want to retire, many simply
cannot afford to,” said Rick Lim in a letter.
responding to a government backbencher who had asked why
the senior citizens could not just retire early and enjoy
life, and he wondered if their expectations of life were
wrote: “Are the senior citizens working as cleaners
because they are saving to purchase a condominium or a luxury
car, or is it because they need to feed themselves and their
This is the other face of prospering Singapore, which has
one of the world’s fastest ageing populations.
Recently, a student from China who was interviewed said
that he found it strange to see so many cleaners were elderly,
compared to poorer China where they would be enjoying their
it on globalisation, insufficient safety net or poor education
when they were young (probably all together) but it has
made old age synonymous – rightly or wrongly –
with poverty and hardship.
is why some Singaporeans who are 45 or older are not looking
forward to the prospect of living in one of the world’s
richest nations in 20 years’ time.
reason? By then they will be joining the unappealing ranks
of the city’s greying population (aged 65 or more)
even as the city moves upwards.
Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew painted the exciting scenario
recently of a fast-developing Singapore moving “into
the upper half of the First World. We can do this in the
next 10-20 years.”
today growing old is not a good thing. Many employers consider
45-year-olds as over the hill, preferring to replace them
with younger, cheaper workers.
(Making things worse is the large influx of foreign workers
who are ready to accept lower salaries.)
majority of aged workers are lowly skilled and make up the
bulk of Singapore’s struggling class. In recent years,
their income has either stagnated or declined, while the
rich got richer.
This affects their ability to save for retirement, despite
their mandatory Central Provident Funds.
Only 27% of Singaporeans between 25 and 75 said that they
have sufficient funds to retire, compared with 61% of Thais
and 47% of Malaysians, according to an insurance company
Today one in 12 Singaporeans are 65 or older; by 2030, this
will become one in five.
elsewhere, this age group has more than a higher rate of
homeless and poor, the depressed, and the desperately sick.
Many are becoming victims of cheating or crime; suicide
rates are high.
In a post-mortem of the 2006 election, leaders of the ruling
People’s Action Party attributed its large 9% drop
in popularity to older votes.
If it is true, it doesn’t augur well for its future
because this base of senior citizens is growing very quickly.
The decision to increase its 5% Goods and Services tax (GST)
to 7% will be an added blow to Singaporeans, especially
the elderly low-income or retirees group.
To mitigate the impact, the government is offering GST credits
of up to S$1,000 (RM2,296) to all over 21 years old, that
will be apportioned according to income and home value.
the 2007 Budget also gave Singaporeans a bonus of up to
S$1,000 to all Singaporeans who make S$100,000 (229,600)
or less, with those over 55 getting the lion’s share.
Two-thirds will be in cash and the rest in Medisave for
But it is jobs that remain the bugbear for the seniors because
many employers are reluctant to employ – or keep –
people over 50.
Lee Seck Kay says that government efforts to keep elderly
people gainfully employed are failing, citing a friend who
was retrenched from a foreign oil company.
“When he applied to a local one, he was told that
at 55 he was too old. They were looking for someone below
48,” he added.
Citizens over 55 are given discounts for public transport
and entertainment places (non-peak hours), far short of
what the public wants.
These Singaporeans have spent a lifetime working hard to
build Singapore up, whether as coolies or managers, and
should be looked after during their sunset years, many believe.
is one of the most expensive places in Asia to retire in,
observes a grandmother of two. “The old should be
enjoying their time, not working as cleaners.”
has the world’s highest rate of public home ownership.
It may be establishing a new trend of downgrading, owners
selling their flats for smaller ones to free up cash for
A newspaper reader, Lee Chin Wai, notices that official
figures show potential up-graders (the opposite) still outnumbering
down-graders by three to one.
If one rules out migration, this ratio could drop to one-to-one
A retiree suggested the government dip into its reserves
to pay each Singaporean over 65 a monthly S$200-S$300 (RM459-RM689)
for the rest of his life so that he can enjoy his sunset
years – an unlikely event.
article was publised im The Star on Saturday, Mar 3, 2007)
By Agel Ee
I've read your article in the STAR today, I couldn't have
born and live in S'pore is a blessing, but not to those
bread-earners. To be able to live in S'pore as a middle
in-come family is difficult.
a Singaporean, used to earn about S$2,000-plus, but every
month I would not have any saving except in insurance n
CPF (which only be able to cash-out maybe in 30 years later
or so, if the monetary S$ did not depreciate).
I've been working in Malaysia for about 3 years, even though
my pay in ringgit is only about half of what I was getting
in Singapore. I have at least M$30,000 of savings after
paying off my S$ insurance n some monthly pocket money for
also I found that working in Malaysia is not bad or better
than work in Singapore. At least not as stressful and look
forward for the weekend to go somewhere. I find it's more
meaningful. Rather than staying at home during the weekend
if I'm in Singapore.
I say to be born in Singapore is a blessing is because education
scheme. Everyone HAD to attend at least primary school -
rich or poor, that's the Singapore government's 'insistent'.
I started to work in Malaysia, many or should I say all
people (Malaysians) I met asked me "why do you want
to work in Malaysia, when you can work in S'pore".
I actually felt quite offended by that, as I just want to
change my 'environment' and to try working in another country.
I do not feel working in Malaysia is a shame, but I just
don't understand why even Malaysians asked me this kind
That's all for my thoughts.
you, you actually bring out what Singaporeans are facing.
Mar 3, 2007
Thanks for an article that you highlighted some time ago
on the aged generation. I feel sorry for the next generation
because it is going to be tougher to grow. It is certainly
no pleasant phase.
Mar 24, 2007