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Speech by Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at PA Wellness Programme Celebrates 10! Appreciation Lunch on 18 November 2018, at Resorts World Sentosa

Mr Lim Boon Heng, 
Special Advisor to Chairman of Board of Management, People’s Association

Fellow Advisers

Grassroots leaders

Distinguished guests 

Ladies and gentlemen


Good afternoon.  I am happy to join you today to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the PA Wellness Programme. We just saw two very inspiring videos of active ageing and what our seniors are capable of doing. Earlier on we had this nice parade by 100 active-agers. I learnt that one of our active-agers, Mr Tan Kok Seng, is 93 and he is a sky-jumper. He beats even the record set by George Bush. 

2. The Wellness Programme has come a long way since its inception.  

a. The pilot started in 2008 with 12 constituencies, and it is now available in all constituencies. 

b. The Programme has encouraged many of our seniors to stay active, healthy and socially engaged, by going for regular health screening and participating in activities in the community.  

3. Population ageing is a key demographic challenge facing many countries, including Singapore.  With lower fertility rates and increased life expectancy, the proportion of seniors in our population is rising.  

a. By 2030, one in four Singaporeans will be aged 65 years and above, compared to one in seven today[1].  

4. What can we do to meet the needs of older Singaporeans?  We will need everyone - individuals, seniors themselves, the community and the Government to each play a part.  Many of you here are volunteers and befrienders, and have done much.  

5. Let me suggest three ways in which we can better meet the needs of our seniors: 

a. First, at the national level, to strengthen the healthcare system, national infrastructure and social support systems; 

b. Second, at the community level, to develop partnerships to make a bigger impact and difference; and 

c. Third, at the individual level, to have a positive ageing mindset and strengthen family support.  

Strengthening the Healthcare System, National Infrastructure and Social Support System

6. Over the years, the Government has been strengthening our healthcare system and national infrastructure to help seniors age well and confidently.  

a. Under the Healthcare 2020 Masterplan, we have been building more acute hospitals, community hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities to meet the rising needs.  

b. We are also investing in new technologies to transform healthcare delivery models and reshape the way healthcare staff care for our patients.  

i. For example, some technologies increase productivity, so that we can meet rising healthcare demands even as our labour force grows more slowly.  

c. To help our seniors meet their medical expenses, we introduced the Pioneer Generation Package in 2014, and are now working on a Merdeka Generation Package.  Minister Gan Kim Yong and myself will be giving more details of the Merdeka Package at next year’s Budget. 

d. We have introduced MediShield Life to better protect all Singaporeans against large medical bills for life.  We are working on enhancements to the Community Health Assist Scheme to extend chronic care subsidies to all Singaporeans.

7. We are also transforming Singapore into an age-friendly city.  

a. HDB has introduced Three-Generation flats, to encourage multi-generation families to live together for mutual care and support.  

b. The Enhancement for Active Seniors programme or the “EASE” provides highly subsidised retrofit features such as grab bars to make HDB flats safer for seniors.  

c. We make the town environment safer and more liveable for seniors, for example, by smoothening pathways and replacing drain covers.

d. To make our parks senior-friendly, we are building therapeutic gardens for seniors to enjoy activities outdoors.

e. We have also improved pedestrian networks with safer traffic junctions, and senior-friendly signages at train stations and bus stops to make it more convenient for seniors to move around.

8. These are important ways in which we are preparing to make Singapore into an age-friendly city and to take better care of our seniors. 
 
9. With an ageing population and an increasing chronic disease burden, the demands on Government and families will rise.

a. The Minister for Health is reviewing a range of policies and initiatives.  We will certainly need to spend more on healthcare.  This is why I announced this year that we will be raising the GST.  

b. Healthcare spending is recurrent, and will benefit current generations.  The responsible way is to pay for them through taxation, so that every generation pays its share.  We need to do what is right, in a way that is responsible and sustainable, and not create a long tail of expenditure for our young to shoulder.  

10. Besides strengthening our healthcare system and national infrastructure, we also need a strong social support system.  

a. We piloted the Community Network for Seniors, or CNS, two years ago.  The results have been very promising, and we are progressively expanding CNS nationwide by 2020. 

b. The CNS brings together Voluntary Welfare Organisations, grassroots and community groups, and government agencies.  Together, they reach out to seniors and ensure that they get the support and help they need, not only in hospitals, but also in their neighbourhoods and homes.  

11. The Wellness Programme was started by Mr Lim Boon Heng ten years ago.  With good foresight and the hard work of many people, including many of you here, the Wellness Programme has achieved much.  

12. I am happy that PA is now partnering the Agency for Integrated Care under MOH to bring the Wellness Programme into CNS.  

a. This will make it easier for seniors to take part in active ageing programmes and services such as health screening and functional screening.  

b. By bringing these programmes and services to the Community Centres and Resident Committee centres, seniors need not travel far to stay connected and stay healthy.

13. We are strengthening the social support for seniors at where they live.  

a. Kampung Admiralty, Singapore’s first Housing Board “retirement kampung”, is a bold experiment on how seniors can age-in-place, with strong social and community support.  

i. The development has good services and facilities that seniors may need – studio flats, healthcare, eldercare, childcare, retail, and dining facilities.  

ii. Just like the old kampung days, residents can easily socialise with their friends and neighbours.  Seniors can also participate in community activities and inter-generational bonding programmes with children.  

iii. It is a place where seniors can live active and healthy lives.  

Partnering the Community 

14. The second area I would like to speak about is the need to develop community partnerships to make a bigger impact.  What we need is the strong community ‘gotong royong’ spirit, where everyone knows everyone else, where people help one another.  In Chinese, we say, “远亲不如近邻”. It means your neighbour is even better than your distant relative. The Chinese also have a saying “守望相助”,helping to look after one another. 

a. Many societies where individualism is strong are having a problem of loneliness.  For example, the United Kingdom (UK) has a Minister in charge of Loneliness[2] and has launched a cross-Government loneliness strategy to address this[3]. It is not just the UK that is facing this problem, but I think the UK recognises this and is acting on it. In Singapore, we are very lucky that even before there was a Minister for Loneliness, we have then Minister Lim Boon Heng, who pioneered this active ageing community. As Mr Lim had pointed out earlier, we have excellent civil servants like Zsin Woon, who played an active role in these efforts. Thank you Mr Lim and Zsin Woon.

i. We hope that we will not have to do the same in Singapore.  

b. About 79%[4] of our Singaporeans live in HDB estates.  We can make best use of our proximity, to form strong ties among our seniors.  We must encourage them to participate in activities together, caring and supporting each other as we age.  

15. In this regard, the PA Wellness Programme is making a major contribution.  Your contribution, as grassroots leaders, volunteers, and community partners, is valuable.  Thank you for your dedication and hard work! 
  
16. To promote learning, let me share some examples of this contribution.

a. In Nee Soon, PA partners with Yishun Health and St Luke’s ElderCare to bring wellness to seniors in the community by setting up three ‘Wellness Kampungs’.  

i. At the Wellness Kampungs, wellness centres are co-located with senior care centres.  

ii. Seniors are able to take part in various healthy lifestyle and social activities like daily work-outs, cooking demonstrations and recipe sharing, conversational English, and health screening.  

b. Over at Buona Vista, the Commonwealth Close RC collaborates with Willing Hearts to prepare and distribute meals to more than 100 needy seniors every day.

i. Some seniors even help to deliver meals to their neighbours who are unable to collect it for themselves.  

ii. In Tampines, I’ve seen many neighbours’ hub, where seniors enjoy a variety of activities. I’m sure there are many more examples. So I encourage everyone to share and learn from one another. 

c. These ground-up efforts are good examples of the ‘gotong royong’ spirit in our neighbourhoods.

17. PA is in a strong position to deepen and strengthen community outreach, and sustain regular and active participation by seniors.  

a. I am happy that PA has started a new initiative under the Wellness Programme called Wellness Time@RC, which brings active ageing programmes to seniors at the RC centres.  

b. PA has also stepped up our befriending initiatives by getting more volunteers to keep a lookout for seniors living in the same block.  

c. Active ageing programmes are also becoming more available, regular and accessible.  We are also making better use of our community facilities and network to promote health education, senior learning and volunteerism, and to deliver health services.  In these ways, our neighbourhoods will become places where seniors can age-in-place.

d. I encourage everyone to continue your work in supporting seniors to age well and stay socially connected in the community.  Let’s keep the ‘gotong royong’ spirit alive!

Engendering a Positive Mindset towards Ageing and Strengthen Family Support

18. I have spoken on strengthening the infrastructure and social support systems at the national level, and building partnerships at the community level.  In the third area, at the individual level, we must help Singaporeans to live long, live well, and age confidently, with support from their families.  This starts with a positive mindset towards ageing, where seniors can take charge of their own lives.  

19. I have seen many seniors aroundwho are living their lives to the fullest.  Some even step forward and offer their time and energy to others as we saw in the video earlier.  

a. One example is Mr Abdul Rashid, 62, a resident of Tampines Changkat.  One of his family members had dementia.  He experienced the impact that dementia has on the family.  

i. Rather than let this get him down, he decided to volunteer for the Age Well Everyday programme, a dementia prevention programme that helps seniors stay healthy in the community by engaging them mentally, physically and socially through music and art therapy, and physical activities.  

ii. Volunteering also gives more meaning to Mr Rashid’s life.  He helps to spread mental health awareness to his neighbours.  Through his effort, other residents have come to know about this programme.  

b. When more residents cultivate positive mindsets, adopt healthy lifestyles and help one another, like how Mr Rashid has, more of us will enjoy a higher quality of life as we age.

20. We should also strengthen family support, to foster mutual care and strengthen family ties.  

a. We have made it easier for families to live close to each other.  

i. For example, the Proximity Housing Grant is given to parents or children who live near or with each other.

ii. The Multi-Generation Priority Scheme helps married children and their parents get new flats in the same precinct.  

b. We are also reviewing ways to empower caregivers of seniors, and to make it easier for them to find the support they need.  

c. With families supporting and caring for one another, we will build a cohesive society with inter-generational harmony.  

Conclusion

21. In conclusion, everyone has a part to play in building a caring and cohesive society that enables our seniors to age successfully.  

a. As we continue to strengthen our healthcare system, national infrastructure and social support system, and develop community partnerships, we need to encourage our seniors to take charge of their own well-being and keep physically, mentally and socially active, and strengthen family support.

b. Together, Singapore can be a place to age well because of strong community network, where seniors can lead purposeful, happy, and healthy lives.  

Thank you all for your dedication and hard work!


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[1] Sources: Action Plan for Successful Aging, MOH and Population in Brief 2018

[2] Source: Gov.UK, Biography of Mims Davies
MP, htps://www.gov.uk/government/people/mims-davies

[3] Source: Gov.UK, “PM launches Government’s first loneliness strategy”, 15 Oct 2018, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/pm-launches-governments-first-loneliness-strategy

[4] Source: Population Trends 2018, Department of Statistics Singapore 

Published on : 18 Nov 2018
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Last Updated on December 04, 2017
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