Photo of Tan Chuan Jin with elderly from Facebook

Based off estimates between two statistic released by the state media today (May 8th) and a recent government survey last month, the poverty rate for working elderly has increased by at least 600% since 1995.

According to a 2015 survey published by an academic from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) and reproduced today by state media ChannelNewsAsia (CNA), the poverty rate for working elderly jumped from 13% in 1995 to 41% in 2011. The LKYSPP then stopped publishing the survey about poverty with no statistic revealed between 2012 and the years after. Last month (Apr 2017), the Ministry of Social and Family Affairs (MSF) revealed that elderly above the aged of 60 relying on welfare assistance jumped 74.32% in the three years between 2012 and 2015. No statistic was given for 2016. Linking the two surveys together, the working elderly poverty rate has increased at least over 600% since 1995.

The 600% estimate coincides with recent Manpower Ministry’s figures which revealed that 23% of elderly aged above 65 earns less than S$1,000 ex-CPF a month in 2016. There is no statistic for elderly earning below S$1,500 ex-CPF in 2016, or the rough equivalent of a S$1,000 ex-CPF standard in 2003.

The disastrous 600% jump in poverty rate is a result of the absence of Minimum Wage, where most elderly poor work as cleaners and security guards.

State media CNA is currently on the propaganda offensive to convince Singaporeans that elderly cardboard collectors chose the poverty lifestyle they want. CNA selectively quoted a volunteer saying that collecting cardboard is “empowering”:

“But what we came to realise is that when they collect boxes, they feel more empowered; they are earning their own money, even though it’s not much, maybe S$2, up to S$10 a day. Who are we to stop them, right?”

CNA then went on to select and publish another statement by elderly poor and other volunteers to support the status quo poverty rate:

“I have children, but I like to smoke and drink, so I work to support my habit and enjoy life. I don’t want to ask for their money.”
“I will sell ice cream until I die. It’s better to go outside. If you stay at home and watch TV, you will fall sick.”
“Indeed, there are those receiving financial assistance who still do the occasional odd job to find meaning in life. But yet others do it out of insecurity and fear that the money will run out.”
“Many would have worked at low-paying jobs most of their lives, with modest or hardly any savings which illness and vices like gambling can quickly wipe out.”

Another half-truth published by CNA quoting a Dr Ng from LKYSPP, saying that “taxi drivers had disappeared”:

“Technology has thrown a huge spanner into the works. Now whole industries, like taxi drivers, can disappear just like that, and no government has a solution for it.”

Taxi drivers have instead joined Uber and Grabtaxi, and are commanding a higher income than driving under mainstream taxi companies like SMRT or Comfort. The drivers did not “disappear”, rather, they have switched to a new model of taxi rental calculation as drivers for car-sharing applications.

Elderly poverty has worsened under Lee Hsien Loong’s administration due to the lack of CPF retirement payment. Despite working their entire life, the country’s failed retirement system failed to provide a payout to sustain a decent standard of living.

Over the past 13 years since he first took premiership, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong increased the CPF Withdrawal Age from 55 to 65, depressed CPF interest rates at 2.5% for over 14 years and doubled Minimum Sum from S$80,000 to S$166,000 in 2017. CPF remains the root cause of elderly poverty but the topic is considered a taboo for state-controlled media, as like how it was painfully absent from the CNA article.