Ageing population, rising retirement age?

MARCH 3 — Retirement, a time when you don’t have go to work every day.

When your inbox becomes a pleasant place from which to send letters to distant friends and not a source of daily, hourly dread.

When every day is a trip to your favourite hawker centre, every week sees you playing with your grandchildren and every month holds the prospect of a Caribbean cruise or similar excursion.

Well at least that's what we're led to believe though in reality retirement can often be a time of great financial and emotional stress.

Poverty disproportionately affects elderly Singaporeans and with old age, people often find themselves facing both isolation and ill-health.

But whatever the grey-haired future holds — whether it's post-card beaches or something much less pleasant — it is important we start talking about it.

Fortunately, age and retirement seem to be a hot topic among Singapore's parliamentarians (and well it should be as nearly 40 per cent of our population is now over 50).

The last week alone we saw three different visions of the future for our elderly.

MP Daniel Goh suggested that a retirement age isn’t needed and that people should be able to work until they feel they are ready to stop.

However, he also mentioned that people shouldn't be pressured to work beyond the current retirement age of 63 if they don’t want to.

Ex-MP Calvin Cheng, on the other hand, spoke out online saying that given the rising life expectancy it was now time to rethink the idea of retirement at 62.

With many people living into their 90s, retirement at 62 means people spending a third of their lives retired — something the economy can’t afford. For some it also means walking away from a career you worked hard to build.

MP Arasu Doraisamy proposed a middle path: Raising the retirement age from 62 to 65 and the re-employment age from 67 to 70.

Re-employment is a Singapore policy that encourages employers to rehire workers for up to five years after the minimum retirement age.

While employees can retire at 62 and receive all the relevant benefits, they are encouraged to stay in the work force until 67 with companies expected to extend their employment if they are deemed fit.

Suggesting that both the retirement and re-employment ages be raised basically just lifts the ceiling on the current system. But is that the solution?

The problem with simply raising the retirement threshold is that it raises the expectation of people to stay at work longer.

While it is true that people are living longer in absolute terms, someone who retires at 65 has spent over 40 years of their life working.

Surely after 40 years, a person should have the financial ability and support to spend 15-20 years in retirement.

A prosperous country like Singapore should be looking to allow a long and comfortable retirement, right?

The key is balancing the real talent and skill older workers bring to the table with the danger of forcing people to work longer than they are truly comfortable.

What's critical is that older workers receive adequate pay, protection and opportunities to keep gaining skills and advancing their careers for as long as needed.

The worry with schemes like the re-employment initiative is that it relegates older employees to a second tier.

Why should there be employees and re-employees?

Perhaps we should just set a single retirement age at 65 with no upper limit if you, your employer and the relevant competent authority think you can keep working.

Freedom, choice and fair wages need to be priorities and those who want to put their feet up in their 60s ought to be supported.

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