Thursday, June 6, 2019

Seniors each need at least S$1,379 monthly to meet basic needs: Study



23 MAY, 2019

SINGAPORE — A Singaporean senior citizen aged 65 and above and living alone needs about S$1,379 a month to meet basic standards of living.

The amount increases to S$1,721 for those aged between 55 and 64.

As for couples aged 65 and older, they need S$2,351 a month.

That is what a team of researchers found after conducting focus-group discussions with more than 100 people who come from various ethnic groups, housing types and educational levels. Almost nine in 10 (89 per cent) were aged 55 and above.

Led by Assistant Professor Ng Koe Hoe from the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, the study seeks to find out the amount of money needed for older people to achieve a basic standard of living in Singapore today.

In the 63-page report released on Wednesday (May 22), the researchers said that the budgets they developed do not only cover expenses for food, transportation and accommodation.

Money required for a mobile phone, an annual holiday and to buy gifts for social gatherings was also included.

This is because through the focus-group discussions with the participants, the researchers found that basic needs must go beyond subsistence. It must also ensure quality of life.

“Budgets should enable older adults to thrive rather than just stay alive,” it said.

Another researcher on the team, Associate Professor Teo You Yenn from the Nanyang Technological University, said that “establishing an agreed floor below which no one should fall” is critical to tackle inequality.


Hence, the definition of what constitutes “a basic standard of living” includes having opportunities to education, employment and work-life balance, and access to healthcare.

It also takes into account one’s need to take part in social activities and to engage in cultural and religious practices. This is to enable a sense of belonging, respect, security and independence.

Participants said that the budget should allow older people to “enjoy occasional treats with loved ones at restaurants”.

An annual holiday was also deemed as a basic need as older people need to “take a break from the stress and routines of everyday life in Singapore”.

Being able to replace old furnishings so that the house would be more “up-to-date” would help instil a sense of belonging and ownership, participants said.

The discussions among them emphasised the importance of independence and autonomy so that older people would not be a burden to their loved ones.

Having a budget to pay for home maintenance, such as fixing light bulbs, was deemed necessary. So was being able to have a balanced and healthy diet, exercise regularly and get regular health screenings as preventing the onset of chronic illness would mean less dependence on others.

Participants also agreed that the budgets should enable social connections, therefore the house should include items to host guests.

The study stated that “one of the funniest discussions” among participants revolved around whether a sofa-bed or a bigger sofa was needed for children or grandchildren to stay over. In the end, they agreed that a two-seater sofa was enough.
Communication devices, such as a mobile phones, laptops and Internet connection, were deemed as necessary expenses.

These items would help older people keep in touch with their family and friends, and keep up with current happenings around the world, helping to reduce social isolation, boredom and loneliness.

Having enough money for cash gifts at the occasional social gatherings, such as weddings, funerals or birthday parties, was also needed.


Researchers found that the budgets they derived from participants’ discussions were “strikingly similar” to actual expenditure patterns of retiree households, which was based on public data from the Household Expenditure Survey in 2012/2013.

Food accounted for the largest expenditure component, while recreational activities made up the smallest share.

However, the budgets developed by the researchers do not account for healthcare costs arising from chronic conditions and major illnesses.

In a 2016 newsletter by the Department of Statistics, it found that households with a head aged 60 and above had a monthly expenditure of S$3,590.

With an average household size of 2.9, this means that each household member was spending an average of S$1,240 monthly.

Based on the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) 2017 data, the median monthly income for workers 60 years old and above is S$2,000 — which is about 1.5 times the budget for households with one elder that the researchers came up with.

The median monthly income in 2018 is S$2,352, based on MOM’s latest data.

For older people who are working as cleaners, machine operators and sales personnel — the three most common occupations among elders — their median monthly income range from 0.9 to 1.2 times of the budget developed by the researchers.

This is the same for older people who have lower secondary education or less.


Based on these comparisons, researchers said that the low work incomes of older people mean that employment alone does not ensure that they would have enough to meet their basic needs.

While there are a range of government schemes to help meet some of these needs, the study concluded that it offers “limited coverage”.

This is because people who want to access public assistance schemes such as ComCare and the Silver Support Scheme have to go through means-testing.

As such, ComCare assistance reach less than 1 per cent of the elderly population.

Given that monthly payouts from one’s Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings is estimated at between S$730 and S$790 if an individual has enough to meet the Basic Retirement Sum when he or she turns 55 years old, the study highlighted that this covers less than 60 per cent of the budget.

Compounding this issue is the fact that only 55 per cent of CPF members who turned 55 in 2013 hit the Basic Retirement Sum. This means that half of retirees will receive less than S$730 a month.

“There will be a segment among the older population who do not have the means to retire, and who may have to supplement their incomes through informal transfers and personal savings to meet basic needs,” said the research team.

Informal sources refer to family contributions and donations from charities.

But the study also stated that the reliance on gross-generational family support is “demographically unsustainable as family size shrinks”.

It may even further reinforce economic inequality as lower- and middle-income households tend to use up a higher proportion of their income, as compared to higher-income households, to support elderly parents.

The study stated: “In a context of high wage inequalities; absence of universal provisions in healthcare and retirement support; and modest levels of redistribution on a societal level; we can expect that the meeting of basic needs will be uneven.

“There must be a decisive shift away from a dependence on family as the main response to this challenge.”

No comments: