Feedback to the Singapore Budget 2012 in cyberspace has been quite positive, especially since social assistance and the regulation of the inflow of foreign workers featured heavily (which, I presume, signals that the administration is cognisant of on-the-ground sentiments). Nonetheless, some individuals – from Opposition politicians to socio-political commentators – have rightfully questioned the potential effectiveness of the initiatives, and the possible ramifications upon smaller businesses or enterprises.
I thought it would be interesting to focus on some of the other aspects that may not have been as outstanding, but hold equal significance: there are, helping Singaporeans with disabilities, and assisting children from low-income households.
Helping Singaporeans With Disabilities
– Introduction of a new programme to provide learning support and therapy interventions.
– Extension of the Special Employment Credit to employers who hire Special Education (SPED) graduates. The Workfare Income Supplement scheme and the Handicapped Earned Income Relief have also been extended.
– They will also be eligible for the same enhanced care facilities that older Singaporeans will receive.
1. The Budget, in the previous years, has been criticised for neglecting Singaporeans with disabilities; in the past (here), the assistance was perceived to be inadequate, and not comprehensive enough. This time round, the assortment of proposals does help Singaporeans with disabilities become more independent, with the providence of tools – not handouts per se – to empower individuals for the fulfilment of ambitions.
2. Before the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) expounds on the specifics of further recommendations, there are a few areas that could be taken into consideration: diversifying public transportation, and making it more accessible; introducing concessions or fare discounts; rendering public spaces and general infrastructure more disability-friendly et cetera. Physical barriers should be removed.
3. Economic independence is of utmost importance; even though Singapore has chosen not to adopt a system of quotas (in some European countries, it is mandatory for companies to ensure a particular percentage of disabled people in their workforce), two things can be done besides incentivising employers to do so. First, MCYS can broaden – and raise awareness of – a diversity of regular employment opportunities; second, work closely with stakeholders to match-make disabled Singaporeans with ideal job openings.
4. More importantly, the challenge of stigma should be addressed. MCYS should work more intensively with non-government organisations (NGO), many of which are already doing a fair but, to demystify disability and actively incorporate people with disability into society. Changing traditional, incorrect perceptions is of utmost importance.
5. With education, students with disabilities should be encouraged to further their studies in integrated classrooms, unless the severity of their conditions prevents them from doing so. In both instances, more work has to be committed by the Ministry of Education (MOE) to heighten awareness, as well as to gradually increase capacities. Of course, this means that infrastructural projects would have to be extended in education institutions (refer to point 3), but I believe that the intrinsic benefits would be well-worth the efforts.
Assisting Children From Low-Income Households
– Pre-school subsidies, with a new, per capita household income criterion (PCI).
– Raising the household income ceiling from $1,500 to $2,500 per month.
– Extend subsidies to a larger group of families than those who qualify for the MOE Financial Assistance Scheme.
– Top-ups to the Edusave Endowment Fund, ComCare Endowment Fund, Self-Help Groups and the CCC ComCare Fund.
1. Against a background of parents scrambling for top-notch tuition services, compelling head-start programmes and propositions that children from low-income households were consequently disadvantaged, it is timely for the institution of new benchmarks to render help more holistic. These improvements are necessary, given the fundamental and sustainable importance of having a good education.
The subsidies and financial adjustments should also ease fiscal pressures within families, especially with the rising costs of living.
2. The importance of having a quality pre-school education cannot be understated (here), and the MOE should adopt a two-pronged approach: first, encouraging more parents to commit their children into pre-school facilities for the development of linguistic and knowledge-acquisition skills; second, to raise the standards of centre-based teaching-learning pedagogies in nurseries and kindergartens.
It is not realistic to expect the administration to level the playing field for every kid; however, it is possible to give these students as much as possible right from the get-go.
3. There could be the introduction of special pre-school education programmes, involving both parents and the kid, that are tailored to low-income families or households. With the inculcation of cognitive skills and other relevant advantages, this will ensure that students do not get overwhelmed when they start at primary schools.
4. Some low-income parents also get anxious when they do not have the abilities to expose their children to experiences beyond the academic-scholastic sphere, such as in the arts, music or sports. Existing community centres and select pre-schools do scratch the surface, but it would be constructive if some resources could be dedicated to help further these relevant endeavours. This could help identify talents from a young age, and equip them with the necessary tools for future success.