The "greying" of Singapore’s population is underway. By 2050, Singapore will have the fourth oldest population in the world. And the country is gearing up for the future.
Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, addressed the Reinventing Retirement Asia Conference in Singapore in January 2009. He told 400 policy makers and entrepreneurs that Singapore is crafting new policies, improving its infrastructure and developing effective programs to enable older citizens to lead full and happy lives.
The keynote address appeared in the Winter 2009 edition of The Journal (published by the Association of Retired Persons International).
Among the highlights:
Singapore’s aging policy is founded on an ethic of self-reliance, which seeks to strengthen personal responsibility. Policies are designed to help older adults to remain employed, encourage a senior-friendly community and promote active aging.
The social security system is based on a government scheme of mandatory savings, called the Central Provident Fund (CPF). CPF is a defined contributions scheme, requiring both employers and employees to pay into individual employee accounts during working years. These CPF savings are invested in special long-term, risk-free government bonds used for retirement and to cover medical costs.
Annuity: The government is adding a new component to the current program to be called CPF LIFE (Lifelong Income for the Elderly). When Singaporeans reach 55, part of their CPF savings will be transferred into an annuity. And starting at 65, CPF LIFE will provide retirees with income for life.
Retirement and labour policies
Retirement: Official retirement age is 62. However, starting in 2012, the government will require employers to offer re-employment to workers for another three years until 65, though not necessarily in the same job or at the same pay.
Training programs for older workers: Many employers favour younger workers, whose wages are often significantly lower. The government has introduced programs to retrain older workers and help them upgrade their skills.
Income tax: CPF contributions for workers over 50 have been reduced, and the workers receive the Workfare Income Supplement. According to Mr. Lee, "These policies have increased the employment rate of older workers, despite major structural changes to our economy."
Better housing for seniors: Most Singaporeans (95 per cent) own their own apartments. As they get older, some move to smaller dwellings. The Housing and Development Board is building more studio apartments specifically designed for seniors, who can buy them on shorter leases. Also, a major program is underway to upgrade and install new elevators in high-rise public housing estates.
Intergenerational living: With 90 per cent of Singaporeans living in public housing estates, young and old mingle and interact daily. The housing estates sponsor a network of community organizations. Seniors’ groups organize a wide variety of activities, including line dancing, karaoke, brisk walking and social outings.
Perceptions of age: A survey by insurer AXA found the average Singaporean saw old age starting at 67. In contrast, Americans think old age starts at 77. "Our perceptions of when we have grown old and what it means . . . must change if people are to remain active longer," the prime minister told participants. In 2007, the government established the Council for Third Age (C3A) to help change traditional images of aging and promote active aging.
Wellness program: The government is also piloting a wellness program to encourage seniors to better manage their health and lead active lifestyles.
In search of the silver dollar
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loon said Singapore is planning to benefit from the demographic shift by establishing itself as a leader in the health and wellness sectors as well as a leading destination for conventions on age-related themes.