Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Bertha HarianBertha Harian

News Reports

It should not be Young versus Old

A long, long time ago, I sat on a panel that was supposed to look at the sort of trade-offs the country would have to make to cater to both the young and the old. Note that this was at a time when lifts did not stop at every floor and there was no clamour for wheelchair accessible buses. We came up with a list of everything we thought should be done for both the young and the old. We assumed then, as I think some people do now, that we had access to a bottomless pit of money.

We didn’t think about how raising the retirement age might retard the career progression of young people. We didn’t worry about whether the young should start financing the retirement needs of the elderly who may not have enough CPF savings put by.

Unlike today, when we’re constantly warned about crossing the demographic rubicon, we simply did not think deeply about the emergence of a tussle for resources between young and old or the development of a “silver’’ lobby. That point seemed a long way coming.

Now, the infrastructure for the old has been put in place (lifts at every floor, ramps and so forth) and I consider the implementation of CPF Life and Medishield Life among the best achievements of the current government. I applaud its foresight especially when I see how my neighbourhood has turned grey with so many wheelchair bound uncles and aunties buying groceries and hawker food. I will be one of them some day, I always say to myself.

Having crossed the middle-age line, I can’t help but be annoyed when I read about young people raising questions about their own future because the elderly are in existence. I wonder if they’ve watched Solyent Green.

I have an old-fashioned view when it comes to the elderly – that what they want, they should get. I suppose I will change my mind if their voice becomes so loud that they hurt the rest of society with their demands. (More old age homes, fewer kindergartens!) But the elderly in Singapore aren’t like that at all. They would rather do manual labour than ask their children for help because they will always say their children have their own families to take care of.

There will, of course, be exceptions.

I doubt that those who are past their 40s and married with children would take the same view of financing the needs of the elderly as some young people, because they probably already do so in some way in giving monthly allowances or drawing on their own Medisave accounts for their parents’ healthcare. They will cheer attempts to lighten their burden, like the Pioneer Generation benefits that their elderly parents can draw upon for medical bills. And frankly, they probably wouldn’t want their parents to work till retirement age because old people should enjoy the twilight of their lives.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

But times they are a-changing.

Singapore is going through a very interesting period where it’s become more common for those same parents to help their children set up home, than for children to give them allowances once they start work. It’s because both parents usually work and can afford to lavish more on their children – and for longer. In fact, it can be argued that the usual age-dependency ratio might not apply because the future-old are in a far better position to support themselves than the current-old. The flip side, however, is that if they can’t, they have only one or two children to call upon for help given the small family structure of today.

Will our future-old be like our current-old in terms of attitude towards help? I don’t think they will turn to their own children for handouts, but they will not be as uncomplaining. They will ask for more government support from that bottomless pit,  or Pioneer Generation benefits even if they aren’t pioneers.

I somehow think this would be less of a problem if some old-fashioned values stay intact.

I worry when we go great guns about having the young reach for the skies and fulfill their potential and aspirations. It’s a noble thing, but searching for this road to the end of the rainbow cannot be at the expense of the children’s duty to their parents. Even if parents don’t ask for anything, the children should just “do’’.

I am amazed when I hear would-be graduates talk about the kinds of jobs they would like to have and whether they will be paid a good enough salary for their needs and wants. I doubt that many factored in what amount of their salary they should give to their parents. Their parents might not need it, but it could be looked at as the cost of defraying food and lodging which they would have to pay for if they moved out of the family home. It is a good habit and brings young people slap against the reality of having to fend for a household, which they would have to do in good time. Frankly, even a token sum would do and most parents are likely to spend the money on the children, than on something for themselves.

If this sounds old-fashioned, it is. It’s filial piety.


Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.
Written By

An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

Further reading