Thursday, October 6, 2016

Life 'remains a struggle' for many old Singaporeans: UN expert


04 Oct 2016

SINGAPORE: There are still many challenges faced by seniors in Singapore, United Nations human rights expert Rosa Kornfeld-Matte said on Tuesday (Oct 4), even as she commended the country's Government for its efforts and commitment to ensure that older people fully enjoy their human rights.

“While I understand that many of the new programmes and policies to address the challenges faced by older persons will need more time to bear fruit, the reality on the ground indicates that life remains a struggle for many old Singaporeans,” Ms Kornfeld-Matte said in a statement released by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Regional Office for South-East Asia.

Ms Kornfeld-Matte visited Singapore from Sep 21 to 29 at the invitation of the Singapore Government, and had earlier commended Singapore's policies for the elderly for being on the right track.

During her visit, she met Government officials, the private sector, non-profit and voluntary welfare organisations to understand their work in the area of population ageing and to exchange views on the challenges and opportunities that Singapore faces as a rapidly ageing society, said the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in a press release issued last Thursday.

According to MFA, the UN expert was briefed on Singapore’s Action Plan for Successful Ageing, in areas including health and wellness, learning, employment, retirement adequacy, housing, transport, and protection for vulnerable seniors.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry said Ms Kornfeld-Matte commented positively on several aspects of Singapore's policies towards the elderly, including its whole-of Government approach and its investment in research on ageing.

"We share Ms Kornfeld-Matte’s view about the need to strengthen our system to ensure that our plans to prepare for population ageing are sustained," MFA said in the statement last week.

"We affirmed our commitment to continue to take a whole-of-nation approach, plan long-term and invest consistently to build a Nation for All Ages. We will also study the best practices and programmes that she highlighted, including ways to provide more statistical information on the state of ageing in Singapore."

In the OHCHR statement on Tuesday, Ms Kornfeld-Matte reiterated her approval of the Singapore Government's "efforts and commitment to ensure that older persons fully enjoy their human rights" but said that she was "puzzled to learn that in a country with the third highest GDP per capita in the world, many older persons with low income continue to depend on their social network for a significant portion of their livelihood and that many of those who lack such support systems face financial hardship".
She also expressed concern at reports about elder abuse, "particularly since reported cases tend to be just the tip of the iceberg".


To address the needs of the ageing population, the Chilean academic suggested that Singapore implement "laws and policies grounded in a human rights-based approach".

“Further measures and independent mechanisms are urgently required to ensure that any form of violence against and abuse of older persons, including financial abuse, is detected and reported," she said.

“Efforts to upgrade the care system and social policy need to continue in order to put in place the necessary infrastructure, programmes and schemes to address the new demographic reality and the human rights concerns of an increased number of older persons,” she added.

While noting that many of the new measures are currently in their pilot phase or at a very early stage of implementation, Ms Kornfeld-Matte called on the Government to monitor the measures taken so far to fully assess their impact on the enjoyment of their human rights by older people at this stage.
She also said she "welcomed" Singapore's efforts to pioneer new models of care. “Care technology offers unpredicted opportunities in re-shaping care systems for older persons given that many existing care system are or will in the near future reach the limits of their capacities,” she commented.

OHCHR said a comprehensive report on Ms Kornfeld-Matte's findings and recommendations would be presented at a forthcoming UN Human Rights Council session.


Responding to the OHCHR statement on Tuesday, the Singapore Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva said the press release "failed to accurately reflect the rich and extensive exchange of views between Ms Kornfeld-Matte and Singapore officials".

In a letter addressed to the chief of the OHCHR Special Procedures Branch Beatriz Balbin-Chamorro, the Singapore Mission reiterated the many areas of Singapore's policies that Ms Kornfeld-Matte had commended during her visit, including the Government’s decision to honour and pay tribute to the country's pioneers for their significant contributions to Singapore’s early nation-building through the Pioneer Generation Package. She also welcomed Singapore's approach of empowering its citizens to embrace the opportunities from longevity and achieve positive ageing, the letter said.

The letter also noted that Ms Kornfeld-Matte had "stressed the need for the Government to further strengthen protection and support for vulnerable seniors".

"We explained to her in detail the Government’s policies to strengthen social safety nets for the elderly," the letter said. "Schemes such as Workfare, the Silver Support Scheme and ComCare Fund, as well as subsidies for essential services like healthcare, housing, and transport are concrete policies that have already been implemented. The Government’s plans to introduce the Vulnerable Adults Act will strengthen the existing legal framework and better protect the rights of older persons."

The letter concluded by saying it welcomed "the opportunity to exchange views and learn from Ms Kornfeld-Matte’s expertise and experiences".

"Unfortunately, OHCHR has given an incomplete and inaccurate picture of the situation in Singapore, instead of trying to present a balanced statement that more accurately reflects the depth and substance of our discussions with Ms Kornfeld-Matte," it said.

- CNA/mz

[It is understandable that if one is exposed to the welfare-pension system of liberal democracies, that the lack of one in a wealthy nation like Singapore, can be jarringly obvious or odd. Perhaps she is right and a pension for the elderly is a necessity and in line with human rights. However, how much of that recommendation is a cultural expectation or habit that is not critically examined for the assumptions and applicability to local context? It's like indiscriminately prescribing antibiotics. It may do more harm than good in the long run.

Not to say that she is wrong. Maybe it is time for us to consider a pension for the elderly when CPF is not enough for more than half of CPF members. But the question of a pension is not simply a binary answer. How much to give, who to give, when (at what age) to give, in line with CPF plans - are all questions we need to answer.

If a CPF member works all his life and manages to just get a basic CPF Life which pays $600 pm at age 65, how would he feel about the aged ex-con who has been in and out of prison all his adult life, and who is entitled to $500 pm, state "pension"?

Or what about the stay at home mom who gave up her career to raise her family, and so has no CPF. Should she get the same $500 pm as the ex-con? More? Say $800? Or $300 per child she raised, and say she has three children, so, $900?

Then what about the single woman who never married and never had children, but who worked all her life to support her parents who have medical problems and for flexibility to care for her parents, she worked mainly part-time jobs, with no fixed salary, and no CPF contributions. So no CPF when she retires, and so she gets $500. Just like the ex-con. She can't get more (like the mother of 3) because she has no children. BUT, she says the mother of 3 should be supported by her 3 children. Just like she supported her aged and ailing parents. But now there is no one to care for her and she is worse off than the mother of three?

Complicated questions, complicated scenarios, no simple answers.]

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