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Scheme to help elderly poor 'should leave no one behind'

WALTER SIM on 04 Mar 2015

The Straits Times


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Who should qualify for the new Silver Support Scheme, which gives lifetime cash payouts to the elderly poor, was a question that cropped up repeatedly in Parliament yesterday.


At least 10 MPs spoke about the scheme during the Budget debate, with most praising it as an important addition to Singapore's social support network even as they pressed for more details on the programme.


About 150,000 seniors are expected to benefit from the initiative, which was fleshed out in last month's Budget speech.


The scheme will support the poorest 30 per cent of Singaporeans aged 65 and above, and will cost an estimated $350 million in the first full year of implementation.


Details of eligibility for the scheme, which will be rolled out next year, have yet to be announced.


So far, the Government has said only that several factors, such as lifetime wages, housing type and the level of family support, will be considered.


But MPs yesterday called for case-by-case appeals to be allowed so that no one will be left behind.


Ms Tin Pei Ling (Marine Parade GRC) said elderly folk who are asset-rich but cash-poor should also be considered for inclusion in the scheme. These include people who are not well-off but live in landed homes they inherited.


"Expecting or asking them to sell their homes to generate cash is (an) extremely sensitive (issue)," she noted.


Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam from the Workers' Party highlighted the plight of needy seniors whose children are financially unable to provide support, or who are estranged from their children.


MPs such as Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) and Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) also urged the Government to help people understand how the eligibility criteria are established.


Mr Nair said he had reservations over whether these criteria are easy to understand and apply. He added: "I am concerned that it will cause deep resentment in those who miss out."


Those who qualify for the Silver Support Scheme will be automatically enrolled into the scheme, and receive quarterly payouts of between $300 and $750. This would amount to between $100 and $250 each month.


Mr Giam suggested that the money be paid monthly instead of quarterly to allow seniors to better manage their cash flow. He also asked if the sum will increase over time to account for inflation.


In addition, he was concerned that the payouts are "much lower" than the current spending trends of the elderly poor.


Each member of the bottom 20 per cent of retiree households - defined as those comprising solely non-working persons aged 60 and above - now spends $317 a month, Mr Giam noted, citing figures from the Household Expenditure Survey 2012/2013.


Meanwhile, Ms Tin wanted reassurance that retirees who receive payouts under the Silver Support Scheme will not suffer any "reduction or withdrawal of the aid given" in other government programmes.


Amid the calls to widen the coverage and increase the flexibility of the Silver Support Scheme, Nominated MP Randolph Tan was the lone voice in proposing that the scheme's coverage be kept narrow for better impact.


"Giving, say, a few hundred dollars to everyone of a certain demographic group would spread the amounts out too thin," said the SIM University economist. "It is better to give to those who need them in a structured manner."


He added that it was important to develop clear rules about withdrawing support for initial Silver Support recipients who no longer need the aid.


This is to benefit others who need the help, Dr Tan said.


Some MPs also worried about the financial burden that the permanent Silver Support Scheme will place on government spending in the future, given the ageing population. Singapore is expected to be a "super-aged" nation by 2030, when one in five people will be 65 or older.


Dr Chia Shi-Lu (Tanjong Pagar GRC) cautioned: "Given the stark demographic reality of an ageing population, a shrinking tax base and a more sedate pace of economic growth, this would represent an increasing burden for Singapore."


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.

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