How much is enough?

How much income does an older person in Singapore need for a basic standard of living? Researchers have addressed this question using Minimum Income Standards methodology and the answer is… well, watch this cute video to find out! (I’m very glad to be able to share this after working on concept, script and overseeing development!) For more information, including the full report, see here.

For me, the most poignant part of yesterday’s launch event for the report was when someone asked the panel about differences observed between the focus groups in Singapore and other countries where similar research has been carried out. We heard that participants in Singapore expressed much more anxiety about healthcare costs–“preoccupied” was the word the researcher used–and fears of falling down, while in the UK healthcare barely rated a mention because of the NHS. The concept of being old and therefore a burden on others also came up repeatedly in Singapore, whereas (we were told) participants in Japan and the UK did not emphasise these ideas and regarded a much wider range of activity as part of their ordinary living. The older people in Singapore were also especially concerned about saving for their own funerals, in order to avoid inflicting expenses on others.

I found myself thinking about the way that economic insecurity casts a shadow over the whole life course in Singapore. Our country is so rich, but we are told to act as if someone is always out to steal our lunch. To many, childhood is merely a preparatory stage for what they call “the real world”, i.e. your place as an economic cog. The actual business of life is, it seems, spinning as that cog, as hard and fast and productively as you can; after that comes the time of being a burden. Extraordinarily, to simply enjoy oneself is seen as a waste of time (instead of, I would argue, the highest expression of what time is actually for). Is this really the best way for us to expect people to live?

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