Singapore, a sovereign city-state in Southeast Asia, is known as the 20th century’s most successful development story, having transformed from a low-income country to holding the third highest per capita income within 50 years. Today, the economy is at the outset of another transformation— this time demographic. Singapore is one of the fastest aging high-income societies and its older population will double by 2030. The same long-term, strategic approach to planning that enabled the Singaporean government to deliver rapid economic growth has informed the development of the country’s approach to aging. Conscious of the country’s geographic and natural resource constraints, the government has emphasized self-reliance and responsibility sharing among individuals, family, community, and the state. This philosophy is manifest in every aspect of its social safety net related to aging, covering pensions, health care, and long-term care.

Focused on its role of enabler, the government has made dramatic achievements in building accessible infrastructure, affordable housing, and a network of non-profit organizations. Already one of the world’s most efficient health care systems, Singapore is stepping up the effort to develop its long-term care system, with a focus on availability and affordability. The government has been keen to capitalize on the economic opportunity among the older population, with substantial progress made in tapping the productive potential among older workers. In comparison, although boasting among the world’s best information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructures, the country sees the need for more effort to improve digital inclusion among older adults and to develop digital technology and services that support independent and quality living.

In 2019, Singapore will become an aged society, having crossed the United Nations threshold of 14 percent of its population age 65 and older. Over the next decade, Singapore will become a super-aged society, defined as people age 65 and older exceeding 21 percent of the total population.

Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division

Percentage of Population Age 65 and Over

(Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division)

Ecosystem for Policy and Social Innovation

Constrained by scarce natural resources, high population density, and small landmass, Singapore is seeking innovative solutions to adapt to a rapidly aging population. Key enablers include effective governance combining leadership from state agencies with a robust consultative mechanism and a culture fostered by the government to value self-reliance and collective responsibility. Built on this enabling ecosystem, policy and social innovation in Singapore is heavily driven by the government and notable for its proactive action and holistic solutions, with a growing push to promote Cross-Sector Collaboration.

“Aging issues have long been under the radar of the Singaporean government, who has been constantly introducing pre-empting programs.”

– Tan Ern Ser, Associate Professor of Sociology at National University of Singapore

Driving Forces of Innovation and Cross-Sector Collaboration

Community Social Infrastructure

While emphasizing the responsibility of individuals and families in successful aging, Singapore’s government has endeavored to cultivate a robust, age-friendly community environment. Having achieved high levels of accessibility in physical infrastructure and development of a community-level service network, it is increasingly focused on integrating existing social service facilities as well as incorporating support for aging into public housing programs. With the early success of several pilot models, including the Community Network for Seniors and 3-generation flats, the government is now working on scaling these efforts.

Living Arrangement, Percentage of Households Headed by People Age 65 and Older

The percentage of those who live alone or with a spouse in the total number of households headed by adults age 65 and older has nearly tripled since 1990, reaching 49.9 percent as of 2017.

Source: Department of Statistics Singapore

3-Generation Flats

In 2013, to promote living arrangements that enable mutual care and support within families, the government started to provide affordable housing options for multi-generational families, called 3-generation flats (3Gen flats). “As many couples find it difficult to go a long way to visit parents with their busy work schedules, 3Gen flats enable them to take care of their parents while enjoying the personal space with bigger room,” said Thang Leng Leng, Deputy Director of the Centre for Family and Population Research at National University of Singapore. Each 3Gen flat has three bathrooms and four bedrooms, and is 115 square meters. The 3Gen flats are relatively affordable as well, and are offered at SGD 315,000 to SGD 500,000 (USD 229,000 to USD 364,000). To qualify for purchasing such apartments, a family must consist of a couple and the parents of either spouse. All of the 1,500 existing 3Gen flats are currently occupied, with the government planning to build the next batch of 400 by the end of 2018.

“Housing goes beyond the provision of shelter. It is closely associated with enabling social interaction and community development.”

– Belinda Yuen, Research Director of Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at Singapore University of Technology and Design

Productive Opportunity

As the population aged and the traditionally defined working-age population dwindled, the growth of Singapore’s labor force started to slow down in 2013 and further shifted into the negative in 2017. As today’s older adults are better educated, healthier, and living longer, the government is looking to this population as part of the labor force solution. Singapore is focusing on removing employer-side barriers to older adults remaining in the labor force by reforming the retirement system and fostering age-friendly workplaces. These efforts have helped older adults stay productively active, but skill gaps and ageism remain major challenges. While the government’s escalated effort to promote later-life education can help address skill gaps, the elimination of ageism requires more fundamental, legislative movement.

Reasons for Working or Returning to Work, Age 55 and Older, 2011

According to the 2011 National Survey of Senior Citizens, the leading reason to work was “need money for current expenses,” cited by 55 percent of respondents age 55 and older; “need money for future financial security” was second with 19 percent; and “want to lead an active life” was third with 11 percent.

Source: Institute of Policy Studies 2011

Lifelong Learning

To prepare for demographic change, Singapore has enhanced its efforts to provide later-life education, stressing that the benefits of learning will increase older people’s self-esteem, confidence, and ability to cope with stress and empower them to contribute to society. The government launched SkillsFuture in 2015, driven by the recognition that in an era when technology advancement constantly disrupts business models and job markets, national competitiveness will require upskilling the workforce and fostering a lifelong learning culture. A major component of the initiative is SkillsFuture Credit program, under which the government offers subsidies for individual learning activities. The government has also focused on creating education opportunities specifically for older adults, in collaboration with post-secondary institutions. In 2015, it established the National Silver Academy (NSA), a network offering affordable short courses, exam-free modules, and ad hoc learning opportunities for older adults relevant to both the workplace and life skills (e.g., health, wellness, arts). People age 50 years and older can use SkillsFuture Credit to offset the fees of these courses, with additional government subsidies covering up to 50 percent of the remaining fees. Some 15,000 older adults have benefited from NSA courses since its launch in 2015.

Technological Engagement

Singapore has among the world’s best-developed ICT infrastructure and is ranked first in the most recent World Economic Forum’s Global Networked Readiness Index. The government seeks to use its ICT infrastructure to harness the power of technology and boost economic competitiveness while improving the well-being of Singapore’s population. As such, the government has been working to promote the development of aging-related technology through funding and partnership with various stakeholders. However, interest from the private sector remains limited to health technology and startups.

Digital Technology Usage, Age 60 and Older, 2013-2016

Internet users as a percentage of people age 60 years and older nearly tripled from 16 percent in 2012 to 42 percent in 2016, partly a result of the growing popularity of smartphones. Fifty-six percent of people age 60 years and older used a smartphone in 2016, quadrupled from 2012.

Source: Annual Surveys on Infocomm Usage in Households and by Individuals 2014, 2015, and 2016

SHINESeniors Program

SHINESeniors, or Smart Homes and Intelligent Neighbors to Enable Seniors, is an R&D project built on an industry–university partnership with funding support from the government. The partnership, known as iCity Lab, is a joint initiative between an IT company, Tata Consultancy Services, and Singapore Management University, launched in 2011 to focus on IT solutions for a smart city. In 2014, iCity Lab introduced the SHINESeniors project, aiming to develop an integrated home system that enables aging in place, consisting of non-intrusive sensors that detect motions and monitor medical conditions, as well as function buttons that facilitate communication with care providers. The government is supporting this project in multiple ways. In addition to funding, it facilitates partnerships with care providers. It has also provided testing opportunities for the technology by installing it in 100 public housing apartments free of charge as of June 2018. According to Tan Pink Hwee, Academic Director of the TCS-SMU iCity Lab at Singapore Management University, based on the positive feedback from older adults, the testing will be expanded to another 300 public housing apartments, and after the trial, the government plans to promote the technology through a means-tested, co-pay model.

Health Care and Wellness

People in Singapore are among the healthiest in the world, claiming fourth for life expectancy and number one for healthy life expectancy. While the country is known for its efficient health care system, the aging population has put strains on its medical capacity and requires a robust long-term care system to complement the traditional family caregiving. As the government endeavors to adapt the social services system to meet rising demand, innovative care delivery models are emerging out of non-governmental sectors.

Over the period spanning 2000 to 2016, life expectancy of people age 60 and above grew by 16 percent to 25 years and their healthy life expectancy by 20 percent to 21 years, while the gap between lifespan and healthspan remained unchanged.

The number of people age 60 and older who have an active daily living limitation is expected to reach 83,000 by 2030 in Singapore, up by 160 percent from the 2010 level.

An Innovative Community-Based Model— Community for Successful Ageing

The Community for Successful Ageing (ComSA) was launched by the Tsao Foundation in 2015 in Whampoa, a neighborhood with more than a third of its residents age 50 years and over. “ComSa follows a community-wide approach to forge an integrated system of comprehensive programs and services with the aim to promote health and well-being over the life course and to enable aging in place,” said Peh Kim Choo, CEO of Tsao Foundation. As such, a variety of services are provided in the community to meet a continuum of needs along the life course for healthy, frail, and dying older adults, ranging from health prevention to end-of-life care and from community engagement to care management.

Led by Tsao Foundation, the model is built on collaboration with diverse stakeholders and community partners— including NGOs, businesses, academia, and individuals— in terms of funding, care provision, and technology development. Older adults are empowered by participating in diverse courses to develop self-care capability and contributing ideas for community development. While assessment of ComSA’s first phase is still in process, within the first year alone, its services benefited more than 15 percent of older residents in the community.

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