Speaking at the launch of the 2023 Action Plan for Successful Ageing, Minister for Health and Chairman of the Ministerial Committee on Ageing (MCA) Ong Ye Kung compared the ageing population in Singapore to a ‘Grey Rhino’ event, described as a highly probable, high-impact yet neglected threat.
It is hard to fathom our benign and affable grandparents as a threat.
However, the double-edged sword of a falling birth rate and rising longevity will inevitably invert our population pyramid into a textbook example of an ageing society.
Citing the challenges in Japan, and other Western nations that have aged before us, Minister Ong concedes that ageing would be “the most significant social development in Singapore.”
Planning for the future
Ageing is inexorable, said Minister Ong. And by 2030, Singapore is expected to be home to 900,000 seniors.
Recognising the potential challenges of this demographic shift, the PAP Government has been prepping Singapore years ahead of the arrival of our silver tsunami.
The Action Plan for Successful Ageing, long considered a blueprint for preparing Singaporeans to age well through a whole-of-nation approach, was launched by the MCA in 2015.
The revised plan in 2023, however, will focus on more ground-up initiatives and inter-ministerial collaborations organised around three key themes – Care, Connectedness and Contribution.
This action plan and its new initiatives are the result of engaging over 5,000 Singaporeans through more than 40 engagement sessions since 2019.
The 3Cs of ageing
In a nutshell, the updated action plan aims to mobilise the community to build a senior-friendly city around the 3Cs.
Care: Empower seniors to care for their physical and mental well-being through preventive measures, not just in healthcare but through physical exercise and a nutritious diet.
Connectedness: Support seniors to age well in the community and provide them with the spaces to meet friends, engage in activities and stay connected with digital literacy.
Contribution: Equip seniors with the tools to contribute their knowledge and expertise, learn continuously, and engage in volunteerism.
A multi-ministry and whole-of-society approach
To support these initiatives, Minister Ong shared in his speech how the different ministries, government agencies, corporations and charity organisations have been working together to enable Singaporeans to age with purpose and dignity.
For instance, Active Ageing Centres (AACs) are collaborating with the Health Promotion Board (HPB) and People’s Association (PA) to organise active ageing programmes (e.g. Live Well, Age Well) that cater to the diverse needs and interests of seniors.
SG Cares Office, under the Ministry of Culture, Community & Youth, will partner with RSVP Singapore, an organisation of senior volunteers, to engage 750 corporations. They will reach out to their employees who are near retirement age to promote volunteerism, shared Minister Ong.
For instance, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng and NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng, will devote resources to provide greater support to enable seniors to contribute meaningfully to the society — through continued employment or volunteering.
The Manpower Ministry is extending the Senior Employment Credit from 2023 to 2025 to provide wage offsets for employers who employ Singaporeans 60 and above earning up to S$4,000 a month while the NTUC has worked with companies to offer reemployment beyond the legislated reemployment age and will continue to form Company Training Committees to help all workers remain relevant.
National Development Minister Desmond Lee will look at improving the physical living environment for our seniors.
The Ministry of Transport (MOT) and Land Transport Authority (LTA), by 2025, will implement 50 Silver Zones and 100 pedestrian overhead bridges near places frequented by seniors such as healthcare institutions will be retrofitted with lifts.
Ageing successfully – the Singaporean way
Singapore has the advantage of being a late bloomer as an ageing society and could therefore learn and preempt the issues other countries are now facing.
But rather than bow down to cultural and societal norms that relegate seniors into a black hole of obscurity after a certain age, Singapore is boldly changing that narrative.
Underlying all policies is that ageing is not a medical problem but a societal one, concluded Minister Ong.
That means that while building up healthcare capabilities might be wise, it is not enough.
Instead, encouraging seniors to engage with the community and stay active through work and play is the foundation we built our policies, such as Healthier SG.
“The holy grail of our health and ageing policies is to make our healthy and active lifespan almost as long as our biological lifespan,” said Minister Ong.
Everybody can play a part to achieve successful ageing for our population. Because together, Singaporeans can look forward to ageing more confidently and gracefully.
Cover photo credit: I Feel Young Singapore/Facebook