A piece of security for retirees — Kalyani Kirtikar Mehta
APRIL 30 — There was an elderly man on public assistance whom I interviewed when I was an undergraduate. He told me that his relatives and friends would shun him, especially when it was the middle of the month. He laughed as he explained that they probably thought he was approaching them because he had run out of money and wanted to borrow from them again.
His tone of voice changed, as he continued to observe that even friends do not want to know you when you have financial problems.
When retirees see their bank accounts get depleted over time, they may become depressed and suicidal, especially when they have a small social support network to depend on.
It is a daunting challenge for any government faced with a fast-ageing population to ensure that its seniors are not left without a safety net.
The Singapore government is known for its foresight and political will to tackle even the most intricate Gordian knot.
The recent announcement that the Minimum Sum Topping-Up Scheme would be extended to parents-in-law and grandparents-in-law from January is another attempt by the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board to enable inter-generational transfer, with an incentive for the younger generation. This is a tax relief of up to S$7,000 (RM16,800); the donor can also use his or her Ordinary Account savings to do the top-ups, provided the Minimum Sum requirement is met.
The use of CPF as an inter-generational transfer tool, albeit a voluntary one, has an additional positive aspect: It encourages younger relatives to be generous towards their older family members and show reciprocity.
The fact is that only 45 per cent of active CPF members who turned 55 year old last year were able to meet the Minimum Sum.
With CPF Life taking effect next year, those between the ages of 40 and 65 will be automatically saving towards their Minimum Sum.
But there is the group that lies in between — those who do not have enough for retirement, partly due to having used their CPF funds to pay for a home or for their children’s tertiary education.
They may also be low-wage earners, housewives or family workers. If they are single and living alone, they would be highly vulnerable. What can be done for them? If they are healthy, they can work longer, provided there are jobs for them.
Why not think of a creative way to turn silver into gold?
As I was searching for a creative way to help older people who are still capable of contributing to society, I thought of the term “social ambassador”.
If seniors who are still able can be tapped to be companions, or “samaritans”, to the frail, poor or illiterate, our community would become more caring.
Why is the concept of seniors helping seniors not catching on? Firstly, it is the branding. Here is where the term “social ambassador” is impressive (just like its counterpart, “health ambassador”).
People wish to be valued, and if an organisation such as the Active Ageing Council (under the People’s Association) could train able and mobile elders to get certified as Social Ambassadors, a new civil corps would be created. In the United States, this group is called the Experience Corps.
The Active Ageing Council should capitalise on Senior Citizens’ Clubs to relay the message that ageing is a more meaningful journey when we make the lives of others happier.
It is also crucial to build into the whole scheme the concept that in-kind gifts would be attached for regular work — such as home visits, “elder sitting”, companionship to visit the library or even grocery shopping. These gifts could be dental vouchers, meal voucher at hawker centres, movie tickets or even telephone cards.
Such small gestures ensure that the voluntary efforts are appreciated, recognised and made sustainable.
It is time that issues are not separated into economic, social or medical categories. Ageing issues are multi-dimensional and their solutions have to be multi-focused. If we continue to view the problem of the low percentage of elders not meeting the Minimum Sum requirement as an economic issue, the solution will continue to evade us.
The actual issue is that these people need the attention of their neighbours and other concerned members of society. If their social capital is built up, the lack of economic capital can be compensated to some extent.
A holistic perspective should be taken on issues facing a greying society and the solutions can be found. — Today
* Associate Professor Kalyani Kirtikar Mehta is head of the gerontology programme at the School of Human Development and Social Services, SIM University.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.