Tackling the challenges of ageing in Singapore
PUBLISHED ON 07 Jan 2014

In a recent interview with The Straits Times, Madam Halimah Yacob, Speaker of Parliament and chairperson of the new PAP Seniors Group (PAP.SG), talks about the challenges of ageing in Singapore and what the government and the PAP is doing to assist the older population.

Below are extracts from her interview which was conducted by Andrea Ong as part of the 'Supper Club' series:

During the recent PAP convention, the party announced the PAP Seniors Group which you are chairing. Why did the PAP decide to set up this group and what are your key priorities and aims?

Because of the rapidly ageing population, the number of elderly people has increased tremendously. The party wanted to have a greater focus on their needs and how to serve them, very much like what we have done for the women as well as the young. The objective of PAP.SG is essentially to raise issues or to help shape policies and programmes on cross-cutting issues affecting our seniors on matters like their quality of life, the manner of their care as well as their security.

... We also want to look at ways of encouraging greater volunteerism, both among our healthy seniors as well as among the young people to support our frail seniors and to look also at innovative practices to reach out to our seniors and support them. The other thing we want to do is to tap on the knowledge and experience of our senior party activists, so they can help our younger activists and mentor them.

We've been hearing talk of Singapore's rapidly ageing population for quite a few years. But how ready, really, is Singapore?

Actually if you look at what has been done, there have been a lot of initiatives already. There are so many inter-ministerial committees on ageing, quite a number of reports have already been produced, committees set up, recommendations made... What I see as a big challenge for us is not so much the infrastructure, but more the software. That will be one challenge - manpower. The second challenge will be in the area of caregivers. Caregivers are themselves growing old. They also need support.

Take an issue like caregivers and eldercare. How would PAP.SG come into the picture?

Apart from just helping to shape policies and programmes, what we want to do is also to see how we can develop a support network in all the different constituencies... Sometimes it's also a question of making sure the seniors know where to get help.

Some view PAP.SG as the party's way of shoring up support from elderly voters, who are traditionally seen as a strong support base for the PAP.

I always see our party as a movement. I have never believed that the PAP is just an organisation. When we started in 1954, we were a movement. When the PAP led Singapore into Independence, we helped to develop Singapore, to grow Singapore economically. An organisation cannot perform in that manner. So I see us as a movement where we embrace everyone. In this instance, we want to go one step further in embracing our seniors and making life a lot more comfortable for them.

Do you feel that over the years, the PAP may have lost some of its momentum in being a movement?

Not so much that it has lost its momentum. But it's basically how we are organised. The PAP is very much aware that it has to always be on the ground. In fact, if you talk to individual MPs, all of us are on the ground almost every day in the week. Sometimes it's also perception, which is difficult to shape. But certainly we can do a lot more, and that is what we are now doing.

There is a perception that the PAP may have lost touch with the ground. How do you challenge or correct that sort of perception?

I don't think that we have lost touch with the ground. I think we understand the ground issues very well. But sometimes our problem is this: we are very good at crafting policies, but sometimes we are not very good at explaining or getting the support for those policies. We tend to make a lot of assumptions, that 'these are good policies, so since this is a good policy, people should understand'.

But no, people need to also buy into those policies, and that's the part which we need to really improve.

The above was from an interview published in The Straits Times and Singapolitics.sg on January 4, 2014.