Starting next year, they will get an average of $600 every three months
TO FORGE a new compact of "fairness in retirement", the Silver Support Scheme will entrench cashpayouts for the poorest elderly in Singapore.
Payouts will start next year and will amount to an average of $600 in cash every three months.
The scheme aims to support the bottom 20 per cent of Singaporeans aged 65 and older, with a smaller degree of support extended to cover up to 30 per cent of seniors, said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday.
The scheme will be a permanent feature of Singapore's social safety net for every needy person who reaches the age of 65, unlike the Pioneer Generation Package that was designed for only a specific group, he said.
It is closer in nature to the Government's landmark Workfare scheme of supplementary cash payoutsto low-wage workers. Together, the two schemes will "help mitigate life's disparities", said Mr Tharman. Like in Workfare, Silver Support beneficiaries will be enrolled automatically.
The news was cheered by social workers yesterday, who have long advocated for easier access to assistance.
The quarterly payouts range from $300 to $750, depending on three measures: flat type, the amount of household support that the elderly person has, and his lifetime wages as reflected in Central Provident Fund contributions.
Silver Support is not only for the neediest elderly, he noted.
The initial group of beneficiaries totals 150,000, getting a sum to the tune of $350 million a year.
Mr Tharman emphasised that the scheme's cost will grow as more Singaporeans turn 65.
But it is "the fair thing to do: helping fellow citizens who end up with much less in their retirement years", he said. "Silver Support reflects the values we must preserve as an inclusive society."
The poor elderly "have contributed in their own way during their prime years, whether at work or at home raising the family".
Mr Tharman said that given the major, long-term nature of the scheme, the Government will not rush in its implementation. It needs time to properly identify those who are eligible and develop the necessary systems, he added.
To ease the wait of about a year before the payouts start in the first quarter of next year,
Mr Tharman said an extra Goods and Services Tax (GST) Voucher of $600 will be given to seniors aged 65 and older who live in Housing Board flats.
So, this group will get a total of $900 in GST vouchers from this year's Budget.
Observers welcomed the Silver Support Scheme, praising in particular its automatic enrolment feature and the fact that a bigger- than-expected group is eligible.
Experts said the amounts given should be monitored and raised to keep up with living costs.
"It is ground-breaking that Silver Support is based on the needs of the recipient and is not reliant on employment," said women's rights group Aware's research and advocacy director Vivienne Wee. "This is a good first step towards a universal basic pension."
Mr Wee Lin, chairman of non-governmental organisation Sunlove Abode, said there is a lack of understanding among Singaporeans of how poor some of their fellow citizens are.
Welcoming the scheme, he said: "We owe it to the old people. We have to somehow make it such that they can live without having to worry, 'Where's the next meal going to come from?' "
BIG HELP FOR LIFESTYLE
It's a big help. We need to go out and see doctors very often, or sometimes we need to go out and do some small activities. We have to spend on transport, food and drinks. So this will be a very good help for our lifestyle.
– Retiree Chew Meng Kai, 85, who lives with his wife in a three-room HDB flat in Choa Chu Kang, on the Silver Support Scheme
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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