Thursday, 6 October 2016

Life remains a struggle for too many old Singaporeans

UN human rights expert says

GENEVA (3 October 2016) – United Nations human rights expert Rosa Kornfeld-Matte today commended the Government of Singapore for its efforts and commitment to ensure that older persons fully enjoy their human rights. However, she noted that “addressing the needs of an ageing population requires laws and policies grounded in a human rights-based approach.”

“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,” warned the UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons after her first official visit to the country.

“I urge the authorities to ensure that all older persons in Singapore are able to age with dignity,” Ms. Kornfeld-Matte stressed.

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LIFE REMAINS A STRUGGLE FOR TOO MANY OLD SINGAPOREANS – UN HUMAN RIGHTS EXPERT SAYS

Singapore has one of the fastest ageing populations in the world, with the number of persons aged 65 and above expected to triple by 2030 to reach 900,000 persons. This demographic revolution has wide-ranging implications for society at all levels and goes hand in hand with growing concerns at the ability of older persons to enjoy the full spectrum of their human rights.

“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 said.

While noting that many of the new measures are currently in their pilot phase or at a very early stage of implementation, the Independent Expert 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 persons at this stage.

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Life 'remains a struggle' for many old Singaporeans: UN expert
File foto of an elderly person in Singapore. (Foto: Xabryna Kek)

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 & commitment to ensure that older people fully enjoy their human rights.

“While I understand that many of the new programmes & 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.

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Singapore unhappy with UN official’s statement

The Singapore Government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Regional Office for South-East Asia are in disagreement over what transpired during her visit to the nation.

Singapore’s Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva has criticised the contents of a press release by the OHCHR, saying it “failed to accurately reflect the rich and extensive exchange of views between Kornfeld-Matte and Singapore officials”.

It follows a remark by UN human rights expert Rosa Kornfeld-Matte on Tuesday that life remains a struggle for many old Singaporeans.

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OHCHR STATEMENT "INCOMPLETE, INACCURATE": SINGAPORE MISSION IN GENEVA

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".

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UN human rights expert says life remains a struggle for too many elders in Singapore
Elderly Singaporeans gather to play Chinese Chess with friends in Chinatown (Source : Shutterstock)

United Nations human rights expert Rosa Kornfeld-Matte today commended the Government of Singapore for its efforts and commitment to ensure that older persons fully enjoy their human rights. However, she noted that “addressing the needs of an ageing population requires laws and policies grounded in a human rights-based approach.”

“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,” warned the UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons after her first official visit to the country.

“I urge the authorities to ensure that all older persons in Singapore are able to age with dignity,” Ms. Kornfeld-Matte stressed.

read more

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

This is the very generation whose sacrifices were deemed imperative by the government for the sake of post independence nation-building. Indeed, their sacrifices have paid off. This generation had to put aside what was essentially its culture to support a foreign lingua franca. Political activists back then were silenced and subjugated, all in the name of nation building. This generation gave its trust to our leaders and genuinely personified the spirit of "nation before self."

Yet presently, these elderlies face countless social barriers and even ridicule as they sought to seek help simply because they are illiterate in the language of administration through no fault of their own. It's a sad day really when a typical conversation between Chinese elderlies and their grandchildren cannot go beyond the simplest vocabulary. Many stories of wisdom and life experiences remain buried, unable to surmount the language barrier.

Such is the price of our resplendent economic transformation of a single generation. The least we could do now is to construct meaningful social policies to support this generation in their golden years. Can we categorically claim that current policies are successful given the sizable amount of elderlies doing menial work in the workforce? We will all grow old in time to come, by the way.

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UN HUMAN RIGHTS EXPERT TELLS PAP GOVT TO LET ELDERLY S"POREANS AGE WITH DIGNITY

The rights expert welcomed the Singapore’s efforts to pioneer new models of care, highlighting that it has much to offer in terms of best practices in the area of care technology. “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 said.

However, she said, “the use of autonomous health care robots also raises a number of issues, ranging from ethics to accountability, privacy and data protection, which have to be studied in detail and for which normative frameworks and appropriate mechanisms may need to be designed to ensure their human rights conform utilization.”

“Such a discussion will be meaningless without older persons themselves being heard,” the UN expert emphasised. “It is equally important to assess the impacts of the use care robots from a human rights perspective with the participation of older persons and to ensure that those involved are reflective of the heterogeneity of this segment of the population in terms of age groups and their various conditions.”

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UN Expert to Singapore: offer more state support for eldercare, pension for all, minimum wage, poverty statistics

Key recommendations from the United Nations Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons:
  • State should be main entity providing eldercare in Singapore
  • Pension should be available to all, even though who cannot contribute from income
  • Institute a minimum wage across all sectors of employment – older people should not work out of need
  • Full population-related statistics, including data on poverty, should be made widely available

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UN Expert to Singapore: offer more state support for eldercare, pension for all, minimum wage, poverty statistics

Last Thursday (29 September), I attended a press conference held by the United Nations independent expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, Ms Rosa Kornfeld-Matte.  At this press conference – conclusion to her week-long visit to Singapore – she presented her preliminary findings and recommendations for Singapore on the human rights situation of older persons here.

The Expert began by expressing general impressions and identifying best practices in Singapore, before moving on to make recommendations in specific areas of healthcare, employment, pensions etc.

While largely lauding the Singapore government for having put in place an Action Plan for Active Ageing and the multi-disciplinary nature of its policies, Ms Kornfeld-Matte pointed out that these policies are all relatively new.  More time, she said, is needed to assess what is working and what is not. The policies also need to be institutionalised over time, and require active monitoring and follow-up.

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More seniors in Singapore taking own lives

The golden years are losing their lustre for a rising number of the elderly here, with more taking their lives in the later phase of life.

Last year (2014), 126 seniors aged 60 and above killed themselves. This is a jump of nearly 60 per cent from the 79 seniors who committed suicide in 2000. There were 95 of them in 2010.

While the suicide rate in Singapore has remained at between eight and 10 suicides per 100,000 residents over the past decade, the proportion of the elderly among those who take their lives each year has risen.

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Singapore: A Super-Aged Country?
By 2017, Singapore will no longer be an ageing society. It will enter a new phase – an aged society

Singapore will make the transition from an ageing to aged society in a short span of 19 years, well within a child’s growing-up years.

The ageing phenomenon is not unique to Singapore. But the challenge for us is greater, as our pace of ageing will be much faster than that experienced by many other developed countries. At 19 years, the pace of ageing we will experience is even faster than Japan’s - the world’s most aged country - which took 26 years to make this transition. By comparison, France took close to or more than a century at 115 years, and Sweden took 85 years!


And it doesn’t stop there. By 2024, Singapore will become a ‘super-aged’ country with 20% of our citizen population aged 65 years and above.

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Support for the Needy and Elderly

Thus far, the Pioneer Generation Package easily ranks as the most universally welcomed policy announcement since the 2011 General Election. Who, after all, would begrudge older S'poreans this expression of gratitude after the sacrifices they endured in those early years of independence.

Even those not used to praising the government for generosity were probably pleasantly surprised to find out that the package would cover citizens as young as 65.

The move acknowledges that even if the idea of S'pore had been imagined by a few, it was built by many. And while the majority saw their standards of living rise, they would never enjoy the full suite of opportunities that came to later generations. For example, among baby boomers born in the immediate post-war years, around 60% never got a secondary education. Many who were academically able had to sacrifice school to help their families.