Let’s deal with elderly poverty now

Every old person in Singapore who is struggling to survive is one too many. Singapore is not some highly indebted Third world country. We are supposed to have one of the highest standards of living in the world, going by our GDP per capita. But this is certainly not the case for more than 66,000 of our old folks. We should aim to reduce to zero the number of elderly persons who are struggling to survive because of finances.

Sunday Routine On 23 August, the Straits Times ran a story titled, “Not-so-golden years for the elderly in Singapore”. It highlighted how, according to the Active Ageing Index, our elderly are not doing well in three areas: health, financial security and community engagement.

This index was compiled by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) as part of a report titled, “The State of the Elderly in Singapore 2008/2009”, which was commissioned by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS). It can be downloaded from the MCYS website.

While health and, to a lesser extent, community engagement are important, the area I’m most concerned about for our elderly is financial security. This is also the area in which a change government policy can make a big difference in the lives of our senior citizens.

Continue reading “Let’s deal with elderly poverty now”

Low Thia Khiang urges Govt to “seriously look” into housing options for homeless

How can we aspire to be a First World country with a world class public housing programme if we have homeless citizens camped out in public parks? The HDB’s proposition for those who are unable to purchase a HDB flat or to qualify for a HDB rental flat is to seek help for accommodation from family members. The HDB should know well that with the size of HDB flats, most families do not have a spare room to accommodate another distressed close family member’s family. The end result would be strained relationships between family members which could adversely impact the family structure as a basic unit of our society. Is the creation of more strained family relationships desirable?

This was a cut delivered in Parliament on 5 March 2010 by Workers’ Party Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang during the Committee of Supply debate, on the budget for the Ministry for National Development (MND).

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It was reported by the Straits Times that the number of homeless people has doubled. When I read the report, I was thinking whether this is more a social problem or a housing problem?

My own experience from Meet-the-People sessions is that it may be less a social problem and more of a housing problem. This is because while many of these cases of residents who lost their homes do involve dysfunctional families, quite a number are still financially viable and could afford to stay together as a family if they could afford the rental of a house. Many ended up without a home because of strict HDB rules on rental housing and obtaining HDB subsidised housing loans.

Continue reading “Low Thia Khiang urges Govt to “seriously look” into housing options for homeless”

76-year old cardboard lady in Singapore

This AFP news clip has appeared in several other blogs, but I think it’s worth re-posting it here. It’s so sad to see this. Is this the way our nation treats the people who helped build it?

To provide public assistance to all elderly Singaporeans in this situation will be but a drop in the bucket for the government. Instead the criteria for receiving public assistance is that you have to be completely destitute and without any family who can assist you.

Despite all the need out there like the old lady in the clip, there are only 3,000 people in the whole of Singapore who are receiving public assistance to the tune of $260 a month. That adds up to $780,000 a month, which is  much less than a Minister gets paid in one year.

Go tie yourself to a tree, judge tells homeless man

I was saddened yet at the same time angry when I read this news report:

Straits Times, Aug 18, 2009

Jailed for living in illegal tent

By Sujin Thomas

HOMELESS and unemployed, Noor Mohammad Yassin Ismail pitched a canvas tent at East Coast Park in May, 2007, and lived there for almost a month – without a lease or licence to do so.

He was discovered on June 26 of that year, after he was apprehended by park rangers.

In court on Tuesday, Noor was asked to produce his Identity Card or passport but he said that he had lost both items.

It prompted District Judge Mr Shaiffudin Saruwan to retort in jest: ‘I suggest you use a bicycle chain to tie yourself to a tree or you may lose yourself as well.’

Pleading for leniency, Noor, who is tanned and skinny, said that he seldom ate, only doing so if friends gave him food.

He added that his mother is paralysed and looked after by a younger sibling, while an elder sister does not care about him.

He was fined $800 but could not afford to pay the fine so he was jailed four days instead. He could have been fined up to $2,000.

Jailed for living in illegal tent
By Sujin Thomas
HOMELESS and unemployed, Noor Mohammad Yassin Ismail pitched a canvas tent at East Coast Park in May, 2007, and lived there for almost a month – without a lease or licence to do so.
He was discovered on June 26 of that year, after he was apprehended by park rangers.
In court on Tuesday, Noor was asked to produce his Identity Card or passport but he said that he had lost both items.
It prompted District Judge Mr Shaiffudin Saruwan to retort in jest: ‘I suggest you use a bicycle chain to tie yourself to a tree or you may lose yourself as well.’
Pleading for leniency, Noor, who is tanned and skinny, said that he seldom ate, only doing so if friends gave him food.
He added that his mother is paralysed and looked after by a younger sibling, while an elder sister does not care about him.
He was fined $800 but could not afford to pay the fine so he was jailed four days instead. He could have been fined up to $2,000.

It is bad enough that this poor (literally) man who doesn’t even have food to eat and a place to stay is jailed, but when I read what Judge Shaiffudin Saruwan said to him as he sentenced him, I was completely aghast! Does the judge have no compassion whatsoever? He jails a destitute man and then insults him.

What is my country coming to? A land where the powerful elites sneer at the weakest members of society instead of helping them?

I thank reporter Sujin Thomas for highlighting this case.