With the persistent worries over Singapore’s income inequality gap and the perpetual rising costs of living, many commentators have begun to ring alarm bells, contending that more can be done – on the part of the administration – to provide greater short-term financial assistance to the elderly and needy. Cognisant of the observations that there is already an assortment of aid schemes available for households or individuals, and the conscious avoidance of convenient “welfarism” in policy-making; therefore, it is imperative for the administration to raise the outreach, accessibility and comprehension of its programmes, create an effective, broad-based roving community task-force, and reinforce long-term safety nets for our rapidly ageing population.
It’s Not About Welfarism; But About Rendering Real Assistance
Our country’s rejection of overt welfare policies has been well-documented; most recently, former Minister Mentor Mr. Lee Kuan Yew – during a policy dialogue at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) – expounded upon the negative ramifications that a welfare social economy would bring about. In line with the faith in meritocracy, the basic premise is that if disproportionate socio-economic benefits are too casually handed out, the general populace would see little incentives to work hard for themselves. Observations on rising country debt generally in the West, because of indiscriminate and unsustainable hand-outs, were also noted during the exposition.
But Singaporeans are not asking for the development of a welfare state, or for the administration to provide entirely for food, housing, public transportation et cetera; instead, it is about strengthening the short-term safety net to help citizens who are falling on hard times. Even with existing funds and initiatives, two groups of people still struggle with day-to-day expenses: first, isolated elderly and needy who have no awareness or understanding of the options that are available to them; second, long-suffering dwellers – usually the disabled and the older members stricken by illness – who do not have the physical or mental strength to take advantage of work or community opportunities available. Under these circumstances, help must be rendered on a case-by-case basis beyond meagre monetary plans, which thus requires greater efforts and coordination.
The desire to have no person left behind, as Singapore prospers and grows, does not automatically equate into the proposal to have a welfare state. Focus groups and policy study workgroups should be established – with first-hand, on-the-ground interviews with the different stakeholders – to get a better picture of the current situation. We cannot pedantically hope that efforts like ComCare and WorkFare, as band-aid solutions, will remain absolutely relevant as the years ahead become more turbulent and uncertain.
A broad-based roving community task-force, developed in respective constituencies and supported by neighbourhood voluntary organisations, can further this case-by-case methodology, and even facilitate aid processes for the less-privileged. This will go a long way to address the aforementioned challenges of communication and comprehension.
Discussions on our long-term strategies must also be proliferated consistently; for instance, with rising prices and wages increasing at a comparatively slower pace, respective ministries should evaluate when it is necessary to adjust the income criteria for assistance. As planning for the future commences, the administrators must definitely take into account holistic aspects of empowering Singaporeans, which can include – but not limited to – enhancing job security, maintaining wage levels, improving the Central Provident Fund saving scheme with greater flexibility, and securing public housing. This should be the way forward.