Strengthening community support for the elderly
Ageing Articles

Strengthening community support for the elderly

Group of elderly men playing a game

In this year’s Budget, the spotlight is on ageing as Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat singled out an ageing population as one of three major shifts that Singapore will experience in the long term.

The other two critical trends are a greater economic emphasis on Asia and the emergence of new technologies.

Even though Singapore is well-positioned to benefit from the collective wisdom of seniors, Mr Heng said that the country must be prepared for the challenges that an elderly population will pose.                                        

 “There will be a significant increase in healthcare and social expenditure, placing greater demands on families and the Government,” he said.

 He shared that the best way to combat this would be to adopt a community-based approach with voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) playing an integral role, given their industry knowledge and experience addressing elderly issues.

“Being on the ground, they are more attuned to the specific needs of local communities, and can respond more nimbly and quickly.”

To this end, the Government will be injecting $300 million into the Community Silver Trust (CST) to help VWOs that are currently providing long-term care for seniors.

This fund will allow VWOs to manage their day-to-day operations and provide quality aged care services to a wider number of seniors.

The fund provides dollar-for-dollar matching for donations and has matched some S$500 million in amounts raised by more than 80 VWOs in the last six years.

In a bid to support ongoing active ageing initiatives, CST’s scope will also be expanded to include donations raised for active ageing programmes.

Working with each other

Even though Singapore has numerous VWOs and governmental organisations aimed at helping seniors, Mr Heng said that the key lies in their ability to work in tandem with each other.

“The efforts of the Government and our community partners need to be well coordinated. Our ‘many helping hands’ have to work ’hand-in-hand’,” he said.

To ensure this, the Government will be widening the reach of the Community Networks for Seniors (CNS) nationwide by 2020.

Conceived in 2016, the CNS acts as a one-stop centre by consolidating the services of VWOs, People’s Association’s (PA) grassroots organisations, regional health systems, and government agencies under one roof.

As a result, seniors will be able to get faster and more personalised help from the various organisations.

Providing befriending services for seniors living alone, encouraging elderly to join group exercises in the neighbourhood, and helping to create awareness of government programmes are some of the many ways that the CNS will benefit seniors.

On top of this, the Government will pump in an additional $100 million into the Senior’s Mobility and Enabling Fund (SMF). Aimed at improving the lives of seniors, the fund provides subsidies for seniors who require assistive devices such as wheelchairs, pushchairs, hearing aids and hospital beds.

The government will also set aside $150 million to subsidise transport costs for elderly on their trips to and from eldercare and dialysis centres over the next five years.

Mrs Kamalam Anbalagan, a 78-year-old beneficiary of three VWOs, feels that the CNS will help her save time and energy.

“In the past, I had to travel from one place to another to sign up for subsidies and it was very tiring as I couldn’t stand for long. But now that the CNS has come to my neighbourhood, I can save a lot of time and energy as I can settle everything on the spot,” she says. 

Under one roof

Earlier this year, at the Singapore Perspectives 2018 conference held by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), Mr Heng had put forth the idea of consolidating resources amongst private and governmental organisations to better serve seniors.

He shared how the consolidation and cooperation amongst social, private and governmental organisations was the way forward in tackling problems that might abound from a silver society.

In line with this, the Government will be consolidating elderly services under the Ministry of Health (MOH) to provide better care for seniors.

Elderly social programmes under the Ministry of Social and Family Development will be transferred to MOH, and the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) under MOH will be the central implementation agency. To help with the expansion of social programmes across the country, the Pioneer Generation Office will be merged with AIC and renamed as the “Silver Generation Office”.

This will allow MOH to implement their services under the CNS framework, allowing for greater depth and variety in the type of activities that are carried out at Senior Activity Centres.

In his Ministry’s Committee of Supply debate in 2018, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said that bringing the services under one roof will allow the MOH to conceptualise a more well-directed approach to meeting elderly care demands.

While the Government will continue to ensure that older Singaporeans are well taken care of, Mr Gan stressed that families and the community also have to play an active role in supporting them.

“We must respect and care for our seniors who are an integral part of our society. Government will do our best to help our seniors in their golden years. However, this cannot be done without the help of families and the community at large,” he said.

The Government will be boosting home care places to 10,000 by 2020, up from the current 8,000. Daycare capacity will also increase from the current 5,000 places to 6,200 places.

In order to ensure sufficient manpower to meet the demands of the ageing population, the proportion of residency positions in specialisations such as geriatric medicine will rise.

For example, the number of residency positions taken up in Advanced Internal Medicine, Rehabilitation Medicine and Geriatric Medicine has doubled from 4 per cent of the total residency intake in 2013 to 8 per cent in 2017.

The policy tweaks will set the country in good stead. But as Mr Heng noted, the best way to tackle the big shifts in demographic is for the entire community to stay united, and focus on meeting the challenges ahead.

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