Opinions expressed in this article are merely opinions of the writer and are not meant to be representative of Singaporeans.
Dear Government, I love Singapore but I don’t see how I can survive here when I’m in my sixties.
From a tiny red dot to a thriving nation, Singapore has come a long way. I’m proud to be Singaporean and thankful for the many benefits we enjoy from safety and security to having (largely) equal opportunities and a powerful passport. The nation has built up a playground for a comfortable life, but at times I wonder if we are getting too comfortable.
There’s a well-known Chinese saying, “打是疼，骂是爱,” which means to hit or scold is to love. Akin to a naggy mother’s love, Singaporeans complain a lot about our country and government only because we care enough to. We won’t bother voicing out our dissatisfactions if we were nonchalant, and nonchalance isn’t something a country want in their citizens.
We hear many stories of Singaporeans migrating overseas for greener pastures, but there are as many Singaporeans who choose to stay. While the grass is always greener on the other side, we also believe in being appreciative of the good things we have here. This tiny island has been our humble abode from the day we were born and we will always see her as home.
Which is why even though I am no political writer, I feel it important to speak out on behalf of fellow young Singaporean adults who are disgruntled with our government but can never quite put into words why we feel that way, or who fear treading onto this sensitive territory.
Our leaders need to know that we are not complaining merely because we love to complain, but it’s the only way we know how to (and dare to) fight for a home that we can confidently say we are happy with.
We Are Worried For Singapore’s Future, Our Future
As a young Singaporean adult of a ‘lower SES’, I fear that my country is going to be too expensive to live in, to raise a family in and to retire in.
Our fertility rate is at a new 7-year low and it is definitely not because there’s no space to bang or that the government isn’t trying hard enough.
I am of a fertile and marriageable age but I am not contributing to Singapore’s fertility rate; and it isn’t for my lack of a partner or drive either. The conventional life goals of getting married, buying a house, and having children are milestones I eventually want to reach, but they all seem so daunting and impossible.
Singaporeans may feel emotionally ready for a baby, but we know the vulnerabilities of having a family without being financially solvent. We appreciate perks like the baby bonus and Marriage and Parenthood package but we also know that these one-time assistances aren’t sustainable for a lifetime’s investment.
Then, there’s the painful truth of having to prioritise between aging parents and children because we do not have enough emotional, physical, and financial strength to support both parties on top of a housing loan. We also need to address how we don’t see our children for 9 hours a day or more because we will be slogging to save for the family’s healthcare, education, and daily necessities.
The government meant well to give $700million worth of our budget surplus back to us as GST rebate. But the $700million could have been better used on reformative programs to encourage young couples to have children instead of the one-time GST rebate. After all, $100 is nothing but spare change to the rich, while $300 is only enough for bills and bare necessities for the poor.
We aren’t ignorant to the fact that our decreasing birth rates will come back and haunt us.
We recognise the pressing need to raise the fertility rates today. 20 years later, we could either be benefitting from a thriving work force or we could be dealing with later retirement ages and even higher taxes. I fear that the latter is more likely.
We might be trapped in a vicious cycle of ever-increasing costs of living and ever-declining fertility rate, because the lesser citizens there are to share the cost of taxes, the more expensive it is for each person, which places more stress on each citizen.
I want to marry and have children but I feel the pain and foresee the effects of my partner and my savings being wiped clean for a modest wedding, a 3-Room or 4-Room HDB flat, renovation, and furniture – something almost every Singaporean will go through today.
Any prospect of a happy and comfortable future is marred by the six-figure sum that we have to fork out for all those. And that’s just the beginning. Housing grants and CPF do help, but with ever-increasing costs and a somewhat stagnant pay, the future looks worrisome and bleak. How am I to afford a future here?
What Retirement Life?
I look at the hunched back elderly with a head full of white hair, struggling with piles of dirty dishes at coffee shops. I notice the bony limbs, sunken cheeks, and wrinkled skin of this drink stall auntie at my neighbourhood coffee shop and how she would get tutted at for getting drink orders wrong.
This elderly auntie messes up often but her sincere, apologetic voice and embarrassed expression is telling of the effort she puts into doing her job as best she could despite her frail body and poor memory. My heart aches.
I remind myself to work hard because my parents will end up like these elderly workers if I don’t provide for them. I tell myself to be prudent or I will really have to work until I die.
In case it seems like I despise the old folk or their jobs, let me assure you that I respect their strength and perseverance.
I’m not talking about the ones who choose to work out of the pride of self-reliance or those who work to pass time either. It is the ones living in poverty and still toiling away in their sixties or seventies that breaks my heart. Nobody should be resorting to collecting scraps or foraging through rubbish bins just to get through another day.
After spending a good 30 to 50 years of their life contributing to the country, our grandmothers and grandfathers should be enjoying retirement sipping coffee, tea, or wine and doing whatever they wish. Why do we still have so many elderly living with severe financial difficulties in our country?
Then, there’s always the worry of expensive healthcare. The fear of dying from an illness that one cannot afford is unspoken, but very real.
So many times, I have heard of how someone’s life got flipped upside down from hefty hospital fees or from bills incurred by their aging parents. What if, fingers crossed, my parents or I have the misfortune of cancer and insurance wouldn’t cover my treatments and subsequent check-ups?
Why can’t we adopt a healthcare system like France’s? Citizens are reimbursed for 70% to 100% of their medical fees and the poorest people are covered 100%. Or Finland? Patient fees are capped at a specific amount to prevent citizens from paying too much for healthcare.
Nothing is free of course, and these perks are only possible because of the higher taxes citizens have to pay. So, it’s a matter of finding the right balance between being pragmatic and idealistic – do you want to have to invest more into something that will eventually support you when you need it the most, or get more financial freedom but heavier responsibilities?
It is a concept that young Singaporeans understand, but we challenge it because we also know that there must be a way to find the right balance.
Rich Nation, Poor People
Singapore has close to a trillion-dollar reserves but we can’t afford to have kids. We have so much money but we still have citizens who fall through the gaps of welfare aids and elderly who continue to live below the poverty line.
Our nation is an extremely wealthy one. We have the money but our strict parents place ridiculously tight restrictions to the usage of this wealth, our wealth.
I do not expect the government to deplete our reserves. The importance of having savings and the complications of dipping into it is not lost to me.
However, as pointed out by Chris Kuan in a Facebook post, IMF’s opinion is that a 27% of our GDP or S$113 billion will be a good enough amount of reserves, and MAS’ foreign exchange reserves as of Jan 2018 are already S$369b or 88% of GDP.
In other words, our reserves are more than 3 times the prudent limit.
So what are we saving for? I quote NMP Kuik Shao Yin, “how much surplus is enough?”
Idealism VS pragmatism, being excessively prudent VS investing in the people today: how much is enough savings before the children of our extremely wealthy family, can reap the benefits from these savings?
I am well aware that there are many complexities to our laws, policies, and schemes. I understand that one action can cause a ripple effect that which will shift the economy and impact us and our livelihood.
Being Singapore’s government is not easy and the decisions made thus far are backed by facts and figures. I have faith that the decisions made thus far weighed all possible options and identified the lesser evil.
However, I quote NMP Ms Kuik again, “Every tilt towards the side of pragmatism is simultaneously a tilt away from the side of our ideals.”
So, dear Government, “when will it ever be the right time to tilt our balance just a little more towards our ideals rather than always towards what’s pragmatic?” Can you let us continue believing that you will lead us to better days?