Aware wants Budget 2020 to give caregivers of elderly family members a monthly income

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN) - It suggested the amount could be based on the Minimum Income Standards study, done in 2018 by researchers of the National University of Singapore, the Nanyang Technological University and Duke-NUS Medical School.

People caring for older family members should be given a monthly income regardless of whether they are working, said the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) on Monday (Jan 13).

The amount could be based on a 2018 study that found a single elderly person living alone needs $1,379 a month for basic needs and a couple needs $2,351, it added.

Such a move would recognise the financial costs associated with caregiving, which is mostly unpaid labour and performed mainly by women family members, said Aware in a Budget wishlist it had sent to government feedback unit Reach on Friday.

The gender equality advocacy group also urged the Government to fund a pilot programme for such an income scheme, which it referred to as universal basic income (UBI).

The scheme, it said, has the potential to offer basic levels of protection to vulnerable groups, including women and the poor.

It suggested the amount could be based on the Minimum Income Standards study, done in 2018 by researchers of the National University of Singapore, the Nanyang Technological University and Duke-NUS Medical School.

The study gave three possible income figures for different household sizes.

Singles aged 65 and older need a monthly sum of $1,379 and those aged 55 to 64 need $1,721.

Couples aged 65 and older would need $2,351 a month.

"These figures offer a starting point to decide UBI levels", Aware said. "Similar studies should be conducted across different population groups to understand their needs."

But as it does not see a UBI coming into effect in the near future, Aware reiterated its call for more immediate support by giving caregivers grants with a cash and a Central Provident Fund (CPF) component.

It had previously called for such grants in a research report based on interviews with 22 family caregivers and 22 care-sector stakeholders last year.

"The grant amount can vary by the level of care that their care recipients need," Aware said.

"For the CPF component of the grant, the Government could consider matching employer CPF contribution rates or implementing a matched savings scheme. The amount matched could be capped when the Basic Retirement Sum is reached."

Its other recommendations include making healthcare benefits universal for all older persons instead of having cohort-specific support packages, such as the Pioneer Generation and Merdeka Generation packages.

It noted that many caregivers view the Pioneer Generation Package benefits as "tremendously helpful in defraying healthcare costs" but were worried about their own future healthcare needs as there is no guarantee future generations will benefit from similar subsidies.

"This anxiety is particularly pronounced for those who are unable to earn an income while they are providing care, and those who are single with no children. Healthcare benefits should be made universal to all future cohorts of older persons," Aware said.

The group also recommended shorter work hours, making it a legal right to ask for flexible work arrangements and introducing mandatory paid eldercare leave.

It was "encouraged" by official figures that show 20.3 per cent of companies in Singapore offer paid family care leave, as opposed to just 5.9 per cent in 2008.

But this is still low considering there is significant demand for elder care leave, which will go up as Singapore's population ages, it added. Awared also said the formal care sector can be improved if the Government invests in assisted living facilities and daycare services, especially for dementia.

Aware said its "policy wishlist" was a collaborative effort with 50 people, including caregivers, students, parents, academics, retirees, social service workers and business owners.

Photos