It was in 2015 the Singaporean Government launched its first action plan on the ageing. All forecasts pointed to 25% of the population being over 65 by the year 2030. This galvanized them to bring together many of the Government ministries to come up with a plan. After eight years, the Government recently issued a report reviewing progress and laying out a new plan. It had been put together after consultation with a range of citizens. They talked to many organizations including companies working in Singapore. The actions taken since 2015 include many ideas being considered or implemented around the world. The difference seems to be that they have done many things and in an integrated way.
The Have Changed The City
They have changed the physical infrastructure of the city to be more age friendly. 100% of the buses are wheelchair enabled. All subway and railway stations have barrier free entry. They have built “Senior Friendly Zones”. These are districts with increased safety for older citizens. Speed is restricted and road signs highlighted. Islands in the road are bigger. Pedestrian traffic lights have been adjusted to the walking speed of older people. These are all things recommended within the EU (See Newsletter #026 “Drive Until You Are 100- Carefully”). The new plan calls for 50 zones by 2025. They will retrofit many of the pedestrian overpasses with elevators.
They Are Changing The Nature Of Work
The first plan has increased employment by the over 65’s from 17% to 31%. They realized that it is difficult to restart work at 65. The number working in the 55-65 group has gone to 71% from 59%. Their aim was to give older people a purpose in life and many wanted to carry on working. They have introduced structured career planning from 45. The retirement age has just been raised to 63. However, they have a “re-employment scheme”. This guarantees that people can stay in their job until 68 providing that they are in good standing. The Government helps to subsidize this period.
During the first plan, 24,000 people in 2500 companies benefitted from a flexible working initiative. This offered government grants to firms to help them redesign jobs to increase flexible working. In their new plan the Government will legislate the right to such work. Over 99,000 people over 55 have been retrained in the “Silver Academy”. This has given them the skills they need to carry on working. For those who do not wish to work there is a National Volunteering Program. The Government has organized this through companies. It includes a mentoring scheme in which older people can pass on their knowledge and experience.
They Are Changing the Daily Lives of Older People
During the first phase the Government built care centres around the city. These will double to 220 during the next plan. They are the hubs through which life changing initiatives have and will be launched. They are targeting to have over two thirds of all older people go through a course to encourage them to live healthily. The “Live Well and Age Well Program” includes group exercise, health lectures and advice on nutrition. The side benefit is a massive reduction in loneliness. Tied to the centres are a series of health checks which take place on a regular basis.
The programs include a State-wide financial education program. This helps people to plan for their retirement. Nearly a quarter of all seniors have been trained in how to use smartphones. Young Technical Ambassadors run one to one sessions. This is supported by mobile companies who have provided subsidized contracts for those that need it. Smartphone usage went from 28% to 48% in the over 65's.
The centres also arrange group visits. These are often to Schools. Indeed 13 of the Centres have been co-located with childcare facilities. This is another part of the initiative to encourage inter-generational linkages. A total of 33,000 young people have been through learning programs with older people. This extends to the family. The Government believes strongly that the family should be part of growing old. There are courses for old people on “Being a Good Grandparent”. There is counselling for those coping with caring for older family members. At the same time there are celebrations of the value of older people. “Grand Days” allow younger people to show their appreciation.
They have Supported the Carers
The plans have recognized the role of younger carers as support for the old. Legislation recognizes the role and there is funding available. Companies recognize the role. There are courses for new carers. They have built systems for all older people and carers to find all the grants and facilities available to them. The Government is providing day care centres to give family carers a regular respite. This extends to dementia and fifteen dementia friendly communities have been created.
They Care For The End Of Life
There is a target to allow more people to die at home. The target is to reduce death in hospital from 61% to 51%. Targets have been set to register a quarter of a million “Lasting Powers of Attorney” for people over 50. They have created a central repository for all Singaporeans to store all of their end of life plans in a readily accessible way.
A Lesson to Learn?
There are only 5.5m people in Singapore. Of these there are 678,000 people over 65 and 1.2 people over 60. They are fortunate that this is a wealthy country ranking 6th in the world on GDP per head. They have the opportunity but seem to have tackled it in an integrated and positive way. By having a committee of many Ministries they can co-ordinate better. They have recognized the problem and mobilized for action.
In 2015 their first plan was launched. At that time the over 65’s represented only 13.1% of the population. They have taken the time to plan and execute. Their overarching aim is to "Build A Country for All Ages". It is working and the “Healthy Life Expectancy” is increasing, unlike many countries. We will all grow old but which country would we prefer to do it in?