Thesis Statement : In Singapore, the elderly are both revered and ignored. While there are formalized measures in place that show respect to the elderly, such as pioneer generation packages and mandatory retirement and reemployment ages, there is still widespread ageism and societal discrimination against the elderly in the workforce and daily life.
- Brief explanation of the concept of ageism
- Explanation of the specific context of Singapore as a society with cultural values of collectivism and filial piety
II. The Reverence for the Elderly
- The implementation of policies that acknowledge and respect the elderly population, such as the Pioneer Generation Package
- The role of filial piety and the cultural values that promote respect for the elderly
- The representation of the elderly in popular culture and media
III. The Ignorance towards the Elderly
- The prevalence of ageism in the workforce and discriminatory practices such as mandating retirement age
- Instances of neglect and abuse towards elderly individuals, as seen in the case of the high profile celebrity maid abuse case
- The invisibility of the elderly population in public spaces and discourse, indicating a lack of societal recognition and value given to them
- Recap of the duality of attitudes towards the elderly in Singapore
- Suggestions for improvement, including education and awareness-raising campaigns on ageism and the implementation of policies to better protect the rights of the elderly.
In Singapore, the elderly are both revered and ignored. While there are formalized measures in place that show respect to the elderly, such as pioneer generation packages and mandatory retirement and reemployment ages, there is still widespread ageism and societal discrimination against the elderly in the workforce and daily life.
On one hand, Singapore has implemented policies that acknowledge and respect the elderly population. One such policy is the Pioneer Generation Package (PGP), which provides a range of benefits and subsidies to citizens born on or before 31 December 1949 who were at least 16 years old in 1965 when Singapore became independent. This includes special subsidies for healthcare, Medisave top-ups, and reductions in transportation costs. The PGP is a clear example of how Singapore acknowledges and honours the contributions and sacrifices of the elderly population who had a pivotal role in the early days of Singapore’s development.
Moreover, Singapore’s cultural values, particularly filial piety, promote respect for the elderly. One expression of this value is the practice of caring for elderly parents at home. According to the Ministry of Health, over 80% of Singapore’s elderly live in their children’s homes, a significantly higher rate than other developed countries where nursing homes are more common. This cultural expectation of caring for one’s elderly parents is ingrained from a young age and is often depicted in popular culture. Soap operas, for example, often feature storylines that revolve around the need to care for ageing parents, portraying it as a natural obligation that is to be fulfilled with respect and gratitude.
The prominence of elderly individuals in popular culture and media also serves as a reverence towards them. One popular figure is “Uncle Ringo,” who achieved fame as a carnival game and snack peddler in the 1970s and 1980s. Uncle Ringo, whose real name was Gilbert Onn, was known for his friendly personality and colourful presence. He remains an icon in local culture, and his name has since been used to brand a travelling carnival that tours neighbourhoods around Singapore. Provoking a sense of nostalgia among Singaporeans, Uncle Ringo embodies the respect that Singaporeans have for local icons and the elderly.
On the other hand, ageism remains prevalent in Singapore society, particularly in the workforce. Despite the existence of mandatory retirement and reemployment ages, the Retirement Age Act and the Reemployment Act do little to protect older workers from discrimination. Research has revealed that recruitment or promotion processes favour younger candidates in Singapore, leading to older workers experiencing lower wages, job insecurity and early retirement. For individuals aged 55 and above who are unemployed, getting back into the workforce can be especially challenging, leading to a sense of economic insecurity and exclusion from society.
Instances of neglect and abuse towards elderly individuals in Singapore have also made headlines. In 2022, there were 370 elder abuse cases seen at family service centres (FSCs), up from 338 in 2021 and 283 in 2020. One case involved an elderly man in his 90s, who was bed-bound and suffered from severe dementia. He was found to be severely malnourished, as his son neglected to care for him. The son, who was his sole caregiver, gave his father one meal a day and failed to give him enough water to drink. Although the family receives financial aid, the son said he was saving that money for his father’s hospital bills or funeral expenses.
Furthermore, the elderly population is also invisible in public spaces and discourse. Advertising campaigns, marketing materials and social media mainly target a younger demographic, creating a lack of representation and visibility in the media landscape. The invisibility of the elderly population in public spaces and discourse suggests a lack of societal recognition and value given to them.
In short, Singapore’s treatment of the elderly is mixed. While the government has put in place formal support structures for its elderly citizens, ageism and societal discrimination against the elderly in the workforce and daily life reveal a harsher reality. Therefore, action must be taken to ensure that societal attitudes towards the elderly are not just deeply ingrained but are also evolving with time. This can be achieved through education and awareness-raising campaigns on ageism and greater implementation of policies to safeguard the rights and needs of the elderly.
To ensure that societal attitudes towards the elderly continue to evolve in Singapore, the education and awareness-raising campaign should aim to debunk myths and stereotypes about the elderly. The National Council of Social Services’ (NCSS) ageism campaign, which was launched in 2020, encourages the public to recognize the contributions of older people to society and to appreciate the knowledge and life experience they bring to the workforce. Such campaigns promote understanding rather than prejudice which helps develop an inclusive society.
Moreover, elderly citizens should be given an opportunity to participate in community activities that celebrate their knowledge and life experience. In 2015, the Silver Industry Fund was established in Singapore to fund active ageing projects. The aim is to transform senior care into a vibrant and self-sustaining industry. The fund is open to both government and private-sector proposals that aim to improve eldercare services and enhance the quality of life for Singapore’s elderly. By creating opportunities for the elderly to engage in community activities that are relevant to their interests, society can foster a greater sense of community and inclusion.
Organisations should adjust their policies to better accommodate elderly workers and support their needs. This involves offering flexible working arrangements, such as part-time work and job-sharing, as well as training and development opportunities that keep older workers up to date with the latest technology and practices in their fields. Encouraging and supporting the retraining of older workers can also help them transition into alternative sectors and gain new skills, leading to greater job security and positive self-esteem. Providing these opportunities ensures that workers are equally valued for their contributions, regardless of age.
Finally, policies must ensure that the elderly are respected and treated with dignity and compassion by employers and workers engaged in caregiving roles. This includes stricter penalty and reporting mechanisms for elder abuse and mistreatment to hold businesses and caregivers accountable for their actions. Government policies should also encourage the recruitment of certified foreign domestic workers with appropriate training and experience in eldercare to protect vulnerable elderly citizens and improve caregiving standards.
In conclusion, the treatment of Singapore’s elderly population is multifaceted, with both positive and negative aspects. While policies have been developed to address the needs of the elderly, discrimination and ageism remain a significant issue. To create a society that actively revere the elderly, education and awareness-raising campaigns should be undertaken to debunk stereotypes and myths about the elderly population, while more community-based activities can be created for the elderly to participate in. Further, government, businesses, and the broader society can provide employment support policies to ensure that the contributions of elderly workers are valued and finally; by providing a humane and compassionate treatment approach to elderly citizens, Singapore can truly aspire to become a society that respects and cares for its elderly citizens.
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