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THE depletion of savings in the low and middle income groups is worrying. Worse still, a survey has indicated a 50% drop in members’ confidence that their Employees Provident Fund (EPF) savings will sustain them in their old age.

With depleted savings, the incidence of poverty among retirees will likely rise dramatically in the future.

“I already see a surge in homelessness among senior citizens,’’ said former Inter-Pacific Securities head of research Pong Teng Siew.

The extent of poverty among those in their twilight years is masked by the support commonly found in extended family structures in Asian societies.

But this development will burden young families when their parents are unable to support themselves.

Among the young, this problem is represented by their sharply falling savings rate.

It means we will have to depend even more on foreign investments to plug the gap between savings and the desired level of investments in the country.

“Failing which growth will continue the downward trend which is already witnessed in the past decade,’’ said Pong.

Only 15% (compared with 30% last year) of Malaysians surveyed in a RinggitPlus poll, believed that their EPF savings can sustain them in old age.

The EPF also warned that savings inadequacy among the working age population could lead to a severe retirement crisis as Malaysia is expected to become an ageing nation by 2030.

Establishing a welfare state or forcing higher EPF contributions could be a solution but “both are rather controversial and must be done gradually,’’ said Etiqa Insurance & Takaful Bhd chief strategy officer Chris Eng.

Malaysia does not have the deep pockets and cannot follow the path taken by countries where cash grants are given to help these affected groups to build back their retirement nest egg.

We can only offer the usual targeted assistance and maybe, among other things, assistance in skills building and re-training.

“The best course is to assist people to get jobs and businesses to flourish, increase trade and enhance the safety net over a period of time,’’ said Tricor Services (M) Sdn Bhd chairman Dr Veerinderjeet Singh.

The numbers are staggering, with nearly half of EPF members having less than RM10,000 left in their accounts, miles short of the minimum retirement target of RM240,000.

While the recent subsidence of the pandemic wave should start to pave the way for more concrete recovery, and hopefully, better employment and income prospects, the hole that has been dug is a deep one and would require tenacious efforts to be covered again.

At the broad level, it also speaks of the need for better ways to stimulate the economy, should another downturn come around.

The measures to allow for EPF withdrawals were made, in some ways, due to the lack of broader fiscal firepower and hence, limited room for direct government fiscal injections in the stimulus.


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