Speech by Mr Heng Chee How, Senior Minister of State for Prime Minister's Office, at Committee of Supply 2014

Madam Chair,

1.          I thank the various members for the cuts and touching on the topic of active ageing.

2.          All of us are ageing and this is a part of life. Instead of associating ageing with disease or disability, we should focus on how to keep ourselves healthy, active and happy, because all of us will likely be leading longer lives going forward. In fact, a 65 year-old in 2012 has a life expectancy of 20.4 years compared to 14.2 years for a 65 year-old in 1982. We should make the most of this increased longevity.

3.          Ageing can be happy, fulfilling and enjoyable, if our seniors keep themselves healthy and active. Indeed, many of our seniors are already leading active lifestyles. For example, more seniors are choosing to stay employed with the labour force participation rate for those aged above 65 growing from 10.4% in 2004 to 22% in 2012. An active lifestyle keeps our seniors mentally engaged and adds a sense of purpose to their lives. We will continue to support our seniors in ageing actively and I am happy to provide an update on our programmes in response to Mr Chen Show Mao, Mr Yeo Guat Kwang and Mr Zainal Sapari and other members who had spoken on this subject.

National Wellness Programme

4.          First, an update on the National Wellness Programme. To promote health and wellness in seniors, the People’s Association has rolled out the Wellness Programme to all 87 constituencies in Singapore since 2012. Seniors can stay physically active through activities such as brisk-walking and socially connected through ground-up interest groups. So, that [referring to slide 2] would be an example of a ground-up interest group that you can see that they are all having a great time.

5.          A 12-month impact study conducted last year in collaboration with the Duke-NUS validated that seniors benefitted from their participation in the Wellness programme. Compared to the general senior population in Singapore, those seniors who participated regularly in the Wellness Programme became more physically active and socially connected. They increased their participation in physical activities by an extra 48 minutes per week, compared to the general population which reported an increase of 23 minutes. Wellness Programme participants also felt healthier and adopted more positive health behaviours. They were also more likely to participate in health screening, which is a point emphasised by various members, and follow up on abnormal screening results.

6.          So to give an example. 54 year-old Mdm Jenny Yim Yuen Chun is one of the seniors who has benefitted from the Wellness programme. She keeps herself healthy through brisk walking. She has also stretched herself personally by going beyond just being a Wellness participant. She now contributes as the Bukit Panjang Divisional Coordinator for the North West Brisk Walking Clubs where she organises activities for the many club members. Mdm Yim has attended leadership and first aid courses to better fulfil the coordinator role. Mdm Yim has demonstrated that one can certainly continue to grow personally and to lead an active and purposeful life even as one ages. She certainly has gone the extra mile.

7.          The Wellness programme is spreading with more seniors like Mdm Yim benefitting from the programme. By December last year, the programme has reached out to more than 310,000 seniors, and is on track to the goal of reaching out to 1 in 2 citizens aged 50 and above by 2015.

Keeping our seniors mentally active

8.          Next on keeping our seniors mentally engaged and active, several members have highlighted the subject of lifelong learning and senior development. We are indeed making available more lifelong learning programmes, and opportunities for senior volunteerism and employability. By participating in these programmes, seniors can stay mentally engaged and enjoy greater mental well-being. Seniors can also gain a greater sense of purpose and show that ageing is a fulfilling process. And this will improve our overall societal mindsets towards ageing.    

9.          We will continue to work through the Council for Third Age or C3A to promote and support lifelong learning activities. The C3A collaborates with like-minded VWOs like YAH! which stands for Young-at-Heart! Community College and Fei Yue Community Services to bring lifelong learning courses to the community. C3A itself also launched the Intergenerational Learning Programme or ILP in 2011. The ILP pairs senior learners with student “teachers” in subjects such as Information Technology and photography. It bridges the inter-generational gap and promotes mutual understanding. A survey of 804 senior and youth participants on this programme showed encouraging findings. 97% of the youths said the programme improved their perception of the older generation while 94% of the seniors on the course felt the same towards the younger participants. To date, 1,040 youths and 830 seniors have participated in and benefited from this programme.

10.      In recognition that many seniors have skills and experience, and can and will to make meaningful contributions, C3A has also funded senior volunteerism programmes, such that those by the RSVP - senior guiding programme where seniors can volunteer as guides at public places such as the airport and hospitals. YAH! also encourages graduates from its programmes to volunteer in different capacities.

11.      To share another example, 68 year-old Che Ah Kau attended a YAH! programme in 2008 and since then has been an active volunteer. Before he retired in 2006, he worked 25 years as a hawker. At that point, he was reserved and he had difficulties expressing himself clearly and fully. But after attending the YAH! programme, he became more confident and articulate. He was inspired to volunteer through the course and is now helping out in Taman Jurong to serve elderly residents within that community. He even joined 99 other seniors and students from the Republic Polytechnic in a fun activity - flash mob at Jurong Point Shopping Centre last October. So, he is less reserved now and living life happily. Mr Che has shown us that ageing can hold many fun and exciting opportunities.

12.      We also want to help seniors work longer if they can and want to. The C3A collaborates with employers, unions and organisations such as HPB to provide talks for mature workers. These talks are aimed at encouraging the workers to adopt a positive mindset towards ageing and to stay employed. It has reached out to more than 900 mature workers since June 2013. Through these talks, we also hope to help our seniors plan better for their retirement and healthcare needs so that they can enjoy ageing with the assurance that their financial needs are taken care of. We will also work on attracting seniors back into the workforce through various initiatives such as the Place and Train programme mentioned earlier by SMS(Health) Dr Amy Khor.

Taking care of our seniors’ health

13.      We will strengthen health promotion, screening and management for our seniors in the community and at the workplace. Because it is only through having good health that one can enjoy ageing.

14.      We are already tapping on senior volunteers to promote healthy lifestyles to other seniors in the community. Some 1,100 seniors have come forward to volunteer as community health ambassadors under the HPB’s Health Ambassadors Network programme. They attend courses to learn more about healthy living and help spread this knowledge to influence others into also leading a healthy lifestyle.  

15.      As several members highlighted, preventive health screening is key to good health, and I think Mr Gerald Giam mentioned it in particular. Community health screening is already a core component of the Wellness programme. 30,000 seniors have benefitted from Wellness screening thus far. And we will continue to strengthen our community health screening efforts, including improving the rate of follow-ups by seniors who are detected with a health risk, and of course keep exercise very affordable.

16.      640,000 workers aged 50 and above are in our workforce today. They need good health so that they can continue working if they can and want to. We are therefore working with the HPB to deliver health promotion programmes at the workplace to reach out to seniors better. And we will take an occupation-based approach to customise our programmes to the health issues that are unique to each occupational type. For example, we could design ergonomics programmes for retail assistants as they tend to develop musculoskeletal disorders. We aim to start with sectors with a large proportion of mature workers, for example in taxi driving or in retail.

17.      Madam Chair, in Mandarin.

18.      所谓家有一老如有一宝。其实,我们的年长者有丰富的经验,也是职场上的宝。而对年长者而言,有一份工作,能够有更多的经济保障,而生活也可以过得很充实。不过,如果要继续工作,那健康的身体是不可少的。为了帮助年长工友保持健康,继续就业,我们将在不同的职场里,推广为工友精心设计的保健活动和计划。今年,我们将推出计划,帮助德士工友和超级市场的员工保持身体健康。这样一来,对工友,对雇主,对员工的家人,都有益。


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