To address the challenge of an ageing society, the Singapore government has been striving to make policies and programs to build an elderly-friendly environment where Singaporeans will look forward to growing old in.
Ministerial Committee on Ageing has been set up early this year to tackle Singapore's ageing issues and its chairman Lim Boon Heng said the three basic pillars for successful ageing are participation, health and security.
"To achieve this, the committee will pursue four strategic thrusts--employability and financial security, holistic and affordable healthcare and eldercare, ageing-in-place and active ageing," the former labor chief said recently.
Getting more older Singaporeans employed will be the top priority of the committee, and Lim made a five-year target of a 65- percent employment rate for those aged 55 to 64.
Today, in the city-state with a population of more than 4 million, one in 12 Singaporeans are 65 or older. By 2030, this proportion will jump to one in five.
The committee is studying to rework companies' human resource packages and to make new measures to encourage companies to keep employees beyond the retirement age of 62.
Unlike western countries, the Singapore government is apt to encourage the elderly to work instead of to rely on state welfare. Furthermore the government may eventually raise the retirement age from 62 to 65 or beyond.
Lim even said that "retirement" should become a thing of the past and Singaporeans should work as long as they can and as they want.
In fact, the employment rate for the old in Singapore last year was generally higher than in many developed countries such as the United States and the Netherlands.
Financial security, affordable healthcare and eldercare are also key problems for the government to tackle.
The 2007 Budget in February gave adequate attention to the needs of the elderly low-income or retirees group.
To mitigate the impact of Goods and Services Tax (GST) hike from 5 percent to 7 percent, the government announced to offer GST credits of up to 1,000 Singapore dollars (about 654 U.S. dollars) to all over 21 years old, that will be apportioned according to income and home value.
In addition, the budget also gave bonus of up to 1,000 Singapore dollars (about 654 U.S. dollars) to all Singaporeans who make 100,000 (about 65,400 U.S. dollars) or less, with those over 55 years old getting the senior citizens' bonus.
Two-thirds of the bonus will be in cash and the rest in medical savings accounts (Medisave) for healthcare.
The government agencies, such as the Health Ministry (MOH), the Community Development, Youth and Sports Ministry (MCYS), also have been reviewing policies to forge an elderly-friendly environment.
To help seniors network, make new friends and stay active, the Council for Third Age will be established by June. The government- funded body will support programs to keep Singapore's ageing population healthy and active.
While another committee will look at developing a "Silver Industry", targeting the better-educated, more affluent elderly. The 15-member Silver Industry Committee will look into growing sectors such as healthcare and wellness, travel and leisure, as well as financial learning.
And to prepare for an ageing population where more people are likely to suffer from dementia, the government may introduce a new law, called the Mental Capacity Act, helping people make plans for their well-being, in case they lose their mental capacity. The draft bill will be ready by May this year.
Apart from doing its part by strengthening community networks to reach out to the elderly, the government also calls Singaporeans to maintain traditional duties of family and look after the elderly.
"No institution or old folks' home can replace the love and warmth of family members, nor can the government," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his Chinese New Year message in February. Hence, ageing-in-place is encouraged by the government that has to face one of the world's fastest ageing populations.