Speech At The Launch Of The Citi-Tsao Foundation Financial Education Programme For Mature Women By Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, Senior Minister Of State For Finance And Transport, On Wednesday 16 April 2008, 11.10 am, Grassroots Club, Ang Mo Kio17 Apr 2008
Dr Mary Ann Tsao President of Tsao Foundation
Mr Piyush Gupta Citi Country Officer, Singapore, and Head of Markets and Banking for ASEAN
Leaders of various Volunteer Welfare Organisations
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. I am happy to be here with all of you this morning to launch this very meaningful programme for women. I am heartened to see the partnership between the Tsao Foundation and the Citi Foundation to bring knowledge and skills on financial education to women.
2. Indeed, successful ageing is one of the most significant challenges in Singapore. What I am about to cite is well known. Today, one out of every 12 Singaporeans is above the age of 65. By 2030, this ratio will become one out of five. Our total fertility rate remains a low 1.26. Singapore is one of the fastest ageing nations in the world.
3. Successful ageing can only be achieved if all of us, as individuals, as families, and as a community, play our part to prepare for the lifestyles we hope to lead in our older years. Issues on women and ageing
4. In the findings of a 2005 research report conducted jointly by the Tsao Foundation and AWARE on women and income security in the context of an ageing Singapore population, there is a significantly higher number of older women aged 80 years and above compared to men. This is consistent with the life expectancy trends: for women, it is 83 years, while for men it is 78 years.
5. The report highlighted the concern over older women tending to take old age income security for granted and feeling that they can rely on traditional family support systems throughout their lives. The reality is that women who have spent a lifetime fulfilling the role of homemakers and family caregivers are frequently unable to accumulate sufficient savings for their old age. This problem is particularly acute among the `oldest old', which are those aged 80 years or above.
6. Statistics have also shown that the shorter or intermittent time which women are part of the labour force have resulted in women having lower CPF balances than men after the age of 35. This is even more so for those who engage in informal work which frequently does not include CPF contributions.
Importance of Financial Education
7. The Tsao-AWARE report has clearly detailed the issues affecting women in old age. An in-depth understanding of these issues is useful in encouraging women, regardless of age, to take an active interest in financial education. Whilst it is understandable that women feel they can rely on the traditional family support systems, given their critical role as homemakers and family caregivers, women must take it upon themselves to make the effort to prepare early to ensure that they have sufficient personal savings for financial independence and peace of mind during their silver years.
8. To this end, the CPF Board and the Monetary Authority of Singapore's MoneySENSE national financial education programme are actively spearheading initiatives to increase financial literacy and awareness of the need to save for retirement. I am glad that the Citi-Tsao Foundation Financial Education programme is stepping in to forward this agenda too.
9. While women should not be over-reliant on their family members, we cannot deny the role of the family as a key pillar of support to successful ageing. The Government has therefore taken steps to provide incentives to encourage family members to play a greater role in contributing to their loved ones' retirement savings.
10. Our changes to the CPF Minimum Sum Topping-Up Scheme this year encourage family members to play an active role in helping the women in their families save by topping up their CPF accounts. This scheme allows Singaporeans to help their spouse, siblings, parents and grandparents enjoy a more secure retirement. It is designed such that not just the recipients will benefit from the top-ups, but also the CPF member who tops up his family member's account, as he will enjoy a tax relief of up to $7,000 a year.
11. I am happy to report that comparing the last quarter of 2007 to the same period in 2006, the number of Topping-Up applications in general had increased by about two and a half times ? from 2,700 to 6,500, while the total amount of top-ups increased almost three times - from $15 million to $44 million. Furthermore, women working in the informal sector would be able to receive the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) should they work and contribute to their Medisave like Self-Employed Persons. Through the WIS, we hope that more informal workers can be brought on board the CPF System, so that they can build up savings for their retirement needs.
12. Another major aspect of successful ageing is continued employment. We should stay employed for as long as we can, as this not only helps to integrate older workers more effectively into the society, but also enhances financial security as well. The Government is constantly looking for ways to help seniors remain gainfully employed or if they are out of a job, to get re-employed. It is also important for seniors to have a positive mindset - with flexibility and a willingness to adapt.
13. However we must continue to be mindful of the needs and concerns of working women. We all know that it is certainly not easy for women to juggle their responsibilities at home and at work. Statistics have shown that women generally spend more of their non- working hours on family, domestic activities and elder care than men. Some subsequently drop out of the labour force to care for the family.
14. To address these concerns, the Government has introduced a number of family-friendly policies and provided flexible work arrangements and family support services. This would help more women with families remain in employment, and further their careers whilst fulfilling their familial roles.
15. It is definitely good news that we women live longer than men. However, many of us fear growing old. We fear being sick and losing our ability to lead an independent life. Indeed, "Good Health is the Best Wealth". We must make the effort to take care of ourselves early on in life, by leading a healthy lifestyle.
16. Other than keeping ourselves physically healthy, let us also remember to maintain our mental and social well-being. We need to build up our social network of family and friends for emotional and psychological support in old age.
17. Financial planning is not something we think about or start doing only when we are close to retirement. It is an ongoing process and financial security cannot be achieved overnight. All of us should adopt proactive measures, such as planning our finances early and practicing good money management habits on a daily basis, so that we will be in good financial shape in years to come. Simple steps like taking stock of our current expenses and reviewing areas that we can cut back on, drawing up a budget and sticking to it, can go a long way in helping us stretch each dollar.
18. We are grateful that the Tsao Foundation and Citi Foundation are developing and driving this initiative. I believe the outcome of this whole effort should add many new dimensions to addressing the various ageing related issues that Singaporean women are facing.
19. This is a concrete community response to the challenges and requires no less than a concerted effort from the whole society. I wish this programme every success and hope all of you will continue to support these worthy initiatives to help mature women achieve successful ageing.