On the 17th of August 2015, we went down to the heartland areas with the intention to interview Singaporeans to seek their opinions about the upcoming General Election. However, there was a change in our plan but we still managed to conduct a few qualitative interviews with some elderly under the blocks of Ang Mo Kio.
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For all the interviews we’d done, the interviewees prefer not to have their faces and identities revealed. Prior to publishing this, they have given us verbal consent for us to write about their opinion on Offbeat Perspectives.
This post features two elderly citizens we interviewed with vastly disparate views.
#1: Retired man, Chinese, 81 years old
Uncle resides in Hougang and claims that he has been an active supporter of the Workers Party in every election since the last one back in the 1970s (supposedly he was referring to the General Election in 1976). He explained that he used to be on PAP’s side, “for Lee Kuan Yew”. He was open in expressing his disappointment in the government.
Inequality and elitism
He critiqued Mr. LKY’s ideal of elitism and how he imposes his ideals on the nation. He mentioned of a time where the uneducated and manual workers were driven out of the shores they slogged all their lives for (was it about the Singapore Citizen Ordinance in 1957?). He described the late politician as being unforgiving and that they shouldn’t be cast out due to their “lack of use” in nation-building. Uncle was born and raised in Singapore. He mentioned of inequality in society and wide differentials in income and status between the “elites” and the common citizens. That, Mr. Lee had the edge to become a politician due to his privileged family background and the top-notched education he had received. Also, he feels that the general public “over-glorifies” late Mr. Lee for his effort in getting the country to where it is now when in fact, every member under Mr. Lee’s leadership plays a role as important as he did but they are not getting enough credit.
Personal note: He was the first elderly person we interviewed. He was cautious of us at the start – thinking that we were doing groundwork research for an organization/party – but when we explained ourselves and most definitely our intentions, he was very much willing to share with us about his observation of the political landscape over the past decades. It was a heartfelt talk. He didn’t say anything much to why he was on the Workers Party side. From the excerpt above, it appears to us that his disappointment in the nation’s policies struck his decision more than anything else.
#2: Employed female, Chinese, 60 years old
Auntie is all for the PAP, reiterating that her family and her have been voting for the ruling party for every other election in the past.
Subsidized vocational education
She shared with us the government’s attempt to encourage lifelong learning by getting low-middle skilled workers to take up courses and workshops, so that they are able to enhance their employability and this translates to raised salaries. With the growing preference among employers to hire younger and educated workers, the government have been pushing across grants and work schemes to incentivise companies to hire the middle-old aged workers and persons with disabilities.
Welfare for ALL
When asked about the Pioneer Generation benefits (although she is not a receiving party), she feels that the government have been generous and distributes a fair amount of welfare for all citizens. The Pioneer Generation benefits for the aged are justifiable due to the medical expenses they incur due to deteriorating health condition.
Increase in CPF Contribution rates for older workers
We hear from her that the employee’s CPF contribution for older workers have raised again and employers are now contributing less to the older workers’ CPF. Now that older workers have to contribute more for their CPF as compared to the younger workers.
But that didn’t turn out to be true as she had said it after we did our research: Since Budget 2014, older workers age 50 to 55 years old contribute 0.5% more to their CPF account. For employers of older workers, they now have to contribute 2% more for older workers age 50 to 55 and 1.5% more for age 55 to 65 to their employee’s CPF. However, the older worker’s employee contribution rate still remains lower than that of the younger workers. The auntie still feels that older workers are now receiving a lower net salary.
Here’s an article that encompasses everything you need to know about this and the rationale behind the changes in the CPF contribution rate.
Assistance for deserving parties
She had some prior experience in voluntary welfare/charity organizations and came across many instances where the least-deserving parties were awarded social assistance. Being able-bodied and fit for work, they chose not to do so. Since assessment is mainly based on the housing type and number of members in the household, the situation could easily be made use of to apply for such assistance. The applicants ended up using the assistance not for sustenance or bills, but for cigarettes and alcohol.
We asked about background checks. She consented that these organizations, mostly managed/co-funded by the government, ought to do more thorough background checks on their applicants before granting them the appropriate type and extent of assistance.
- Food for thought: The truly needy
For most Singaporeans, it wouldn’t be difficult to seek out for assistance in a social service office, family service center or a VWO that is located within the vicinity of most housing estates. However, does the truly needy know about these schemes intended for them in the first place? Even when they know of such assistance, will they be open to the idea of approaching the social service offices for help?
When I was writing the post, I came across this web series on Channel NewsAsia titled, “Inside the Social Service Office“, that was relevant to this point that was mentioned by Auntie.
“People who walks in here, saying that they deserve the help since it’s government’s money afterall.“
Thanks for reading part II of our Golden Years interview, click to rewind back in time f0r – Part I of our Golden Years Edition interview 🙂
SY: “Stability” and “assurance” are common factors to account for why most of the elderly citizens would rather stick with the familiar than to risk change. Singapore has underwent lots of changes and I feel that the citizens have been quite versatile. The young, the middle-aged and the old. I do acknowledge that some fall through the cracks and that more effort needs to be pumped into addressing this. The ‘working poor’, freedom of speech, rights to information, consumer choice, etc. are problems magnified in our current political and social landscape and it’s becoming more difficult for citizens to ignore and move on with our individual lives being merely “satisfied” with what we have now.
Change is both opportunistic and uncertain, for definitely what we hope for is that it will bring about “better” good than what we currently have now. I don’t mean this group of people dislikes change. Perhaps they’d prefer changes within the boundaries. With an evident majority of citizens comfortably settled, this group may be for changes that are continually made by the same party (so that they’re kept within the “safe” boundaries) that have been with them for more than half of their lifetime. On the flip side, we’re also seeing a significant slice of the younger generation who feel that change is necessary, alternative/new voices are needed, being-satisfied wouldn’t suffice and that Singapore has far greater potential to improve and succeed.
Cassandra: On the issue of Elitism – On one hand, PAP claims that our Meritocratic system has allowed all Singaporeans to be given all socio-economic level an equal footing, considering the fact that they do provide financial assistance to the needy students. On another hand, it is a known fact that elite schools have special programmes or better educational resources which may be more costly, and such privilege of “enhanced” learning may not be found in normal neighbourhood schools. E.g. Not all elite or Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools may not provide Malay or Tamil as a mother tongue language. This can be unfair to minorities or the not-so-rich, since they are not given the equal chance to be entitled to such “exclusive” routes for the more wealthy or Chinese race. Also, national exams that determines whether we do well in school is good, but there can be more alternatives provided in terms of grades marking to cater to the diverse talents of our youths.
I was never academically-inclined, nor do I enjoy reading, but like any other youth, we all have our respective niche areas, mine just happens to not be academic-based. Also, students can be encouraged to think out of the box. Exam questions can be more diverse, and offer opportunities for students to show their depth of reflection and analysis, as well as critical thinking, rather than just memory storage ability. Parents and students end up being more competitive, and this pressure does not bode well on the young students or even their parents as well. It becomes a mindset of being the top instead of being the best I can give and be. And students may even up breaking down from all the stress. The idea of success and intelligence also becomes strictly aligned to how well we achieve academically. That can be a very shallow mindset, as all of us have our own strengths, and not all of us have the strength of being book smart. We should be inculcated to give our all, rather than to beat the rest.
On the issue of giving the right help to the needy – There are many who take advantage of the social welfare system. Many may be poor but still, some who are able to work may be not as motivated or lazy, and would rather depend on social assistance in the long run. Talking from a Social Work perspective, the help social workers give is intended to be short-term. We hope to aid in their plan and commitment to being self-reliant by providing short term assistance but, our ultimate goal is for them again, to stand on their own two feet in the long run. I’m not well-read on the CPF system, so I do not have a clear outlook yet on my view towards the government’s amount of control towards our savings. Nevertheless, I feel it is good direction by the government to inculcate into people the practice of self-reliance through encouraging the consistency and commitment of personal savings.
Independence and personal responsibility are good character traits to build up to ensure financial stability in the long-term. When you take out the issue of financial woes, things often fall into place more easily. I’m glad we are not a fully welfare state. The consequence of it will be higher taxes, as well as people exploiting or becoming dependant on such a “generous” system becoming a greater trend as well. Nonetheless, the system and effectiveness of social assistance can be improved to not only ensure the help is given to the most needy of the needy, but to also prevent the sheep-in-the-wolf clothing from making use of the system. One effective method to decrease the huge wealth gap between the poor and rich is to not focus on making the rich poorer, but enabling the poor to become more financially-abled.
Overall – All these comes back again to not only a good social assistance system, but also an effective education system, which can alleviate the issue of poverty. If we really want to allow all students to have an equal footing, we got to revamp the educational pathways further e.g. inculcate ideals of helping each other work towards the same goal rather than individual excellence, more diversity in affirming various non-academic related strengths, more equality in resources to all types of schools and students, more focus on personal analysis and reflection, and less focus on memory storage skills in exams.
[Offbeat Perspective’s Interviews]
Category: “Unique Passions”
Category: “Unheard Voices”
Category: “Public Interviews”
Category: “Amos Yee Saga – Citizen Journalism”
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Written by: SY
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