Party Convention 2013: Speech by Chan Hui Min

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Party Chairman, Secretary General, Distinguished Guests, fellow Comrades and friends.

With increasing life expectancy and declining fertility rates, Singapore has seen a larger proportion of citizens in the older age groups than before. At the same time, the citizen old-age support ratio has been decreasing rapidly. That is to say, in the next 10-20 years, there will be a large number of us who will join the "silver years" to form a significant group in our population. There is an urgent need to understand how this will affect us, particularly, the political impact of ageing issues in Singapore.

Heeding the call to action, the Women's Wing organised a discussion session entitled, 'The Political Clout of the Silver Generation in an Ageing Population', to engage activists in the process of putting together "PAP resolution 2013".

Facilitated by comrades Ellen Lee and Lily Neo, the pre-convention session was conducted in a workshop format, where each break-out group focused on separate ageing issues, such as continued employment, family support, community integration, housing, transportation, and healthcare.

A large number of the activists who participated in the session were in their 40s and 50s. Some were already seniors. Many of these activists shared their personal experiences and I am deeply honoured and humbled to present the summary of their feedback to you.

Three key messages emerged from our discussion:

Firstly, the demographics of senior citizens are becoming more diverse, some with family support, some remaining single, and some still with dependents well after retirement.

Secondly, these seniors desire to remain financially independent, be able to take care of themselves, and be perceived as active contributors to the economy and the community.

Thirdly, as current caregivers in their own families, many of those entering the senior years wish to continue to do so after retirement, and to be able to count on a social safety net for their basic needs such as housing, transportation, and healthcare, so that they avoid becoming a burden to their families. At the same time, there was support for a more targeted approach to social assistance, so that the cost of providing this social safety net does not become a burden on the younger taxpayers.

We feel that there was a need to strengthen family values such as filial piety and respect for the elderly in our society. This is the way to create a truly elder-friendly environment. We must honour our seniors, and help them stay active and achieve greater security.

We were concerned about senior citizens not being able to afford the basic housing and medical expenses after retirement. Many felt that the current government-led medical funding schemes could be further refined to cover more age-related medical expenses, such as diagnostic tests, so that good healthcare in Singapore remains affordable to our senior citizens.

We were worried about the availability of rental flats as the number of senior citizens grows. While retirement villages were well received during the discussion, there were suggestions to have more rental flats in these communities so that they become more affordable to senior citizens.

We also wish to highlight that there are many senior citizens who are 'asset rich' but 'cash poor'. These people are not usually eligible for social assistance. We hope that the party, as government, could make it easier for their housing assets to become a means to their financial independence. This could be a way for our seniors to share in the benefits of Singapore's progress and fulfil their needs in old age.

A large portion of the discussion centred on age discrimination in the workplace. Many activists felt that there were few job opportunities for people approaching retirement age, as well as for those in retirement. Some wished for their fellow seniors to have a choice to postpone their retirement, and wanted employers to continue to treat them equally to younger employees. To them, equal opportunity in the workplace means more than just financial independence; it allows them to fulfil their desire to be active contributors to our society.

One fellow comrade evocatively illustrated the perception of the job market for senior citizens; she felt that when she retires, instead of taking on a low-paying, unfulfilling job, she would rather stay at home to take care of her future grandchildren. Now, if only there could be a way for her to be paid for doing that!

As a society, we could do more to change the mindset towards older employees in the workplace. As the party in government, we can design policies and send stronger signals to the public and private sectors to embrace seniors as relevant and valued members of our staff teams. Our party stands for an open and compassionate meritocracy, where everyone has the opportunity to fulfil his or her potential, regardless of age.We can and must turn this ideal into reality.

Speaking of senior citizens being active contributors in our society, an idea was mooted during the discussion. What if there was a group within the PAP formed by senior citizen activists? Was there room for a 'Silver Wing'? This could become a platform for the emerging voices of the demographic. The idea was very well received among the activists.

The ageing issues also have a large impact on the younger generation. Many younger people need help as caregivers to their elder family members. There will be a greater need for better social support for families with elders, such as eldercare leave benefits and caregiver support programs.

However, we also feel that it is important to provide for the ageing population in a sustainable way, so that it remains fair for younger taxpayers. Our working population is increasingly mobile and there are many choices overseas. We need to make sure that the cost of living in Singapore remains sustainable for all of us, not only seniors but also younger citizens. It is therefore critical that we avoid making policies that address the problems of seniors of today but create new problems for the seniors of tomorrow.

In conclusion, the key feedback from the pre-convention session indicates that senior citizens want to remain relevant, active and independent. They will need help in many areas to adapt to their evolving lifestyle as they age. The best help that one can give, is to create an environment that enables them to help themselves, be it a physical, social, economic or political environment.

As citizens and party members, we need to strive for a society where one has a duty to each other and our community. Let's channel our love for Singapore to help build a fair and just society that honours our seniors and allows all of us to live happily together.

Majulah PAP!

This speech was delivered by Ms Chan Hui Min at the Party Convention 2013 on December 8, 2013, at Kallang Theatre.

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