By Leong Sze Hian
I refer to the articles "Workfare payout going out to 287,000" (ST, Dec 29), "First Workfare payments to be made on Jan 1" (BT, Dec 29), and "Workfare Income Supplement Payment on New year's day" (Today, Dec 29).
Michael Palmer, MP - Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, said on 31 December, "I would like to see more put into the WIS (Workfare) scheme. I think that is a great scheme. It encourages employment all around, particularly in a good employment environment".
Some 340,000 workers received the Workfare Bonus in 2006, and about 362,000 did so in 2007.
Why does the number of workers receiving Workfare seem to have declined by 21 per cent from 362,000 to 287,000?
I find this to be somewhat puzzling as the Workfare changes came in booming times which saw a record number of jobs created, the lowest unemployment in almost a decade, record investments, and Singapore has enjoyed another year of robust expansion - the economy grew by 7.5 per cent?
Moreover, the number of age 55 and older workers in employment is also at a record high, and the majority of them work as general workers, production operators, etc, which generally pay not more than the Workfare eligibility's $1,500 monthly wages.
The number of age 35 and over workers, which is the qualifying age for Workfare, is also at a record high.
I believe the majority of new jobs created was in the service sector, like sales assistants, security guards, etc, which may tally with recent media reports that the highest job vacancies are in such jobs, which also generally pay not more than $1,500.
Has the number of self-employed eligible for Workfare by making voluntary CPF contributions increased or declined, as there was some reluctance because their entire Workfare payout goes to their Medisave accounts, without any cash payout like Workfare for employees? The older lower-income self-employed who typically have families to support, may have an affordability issue with contributing to Medisave, as it may reduce their already meagre disposable income.
I understand that self-employed persons who provide services that do not require a license, or do not have a registered sole proprietorship, partnership or company, such as home tutors, have been told they do not qualify for Workfare, even if they are willing to make Medisave contributions. In this connection, historically, it has always been a problem to get Singaporeans to sign-up or top-up for money.
For example, 87,000 have yet to sign up for last year's GST credits, and the last Economic Re-structuring Shares (ERS) had 92,000 people who did not sign-up to get their shares.
A similar problem was encountered in the New Singapore Shares in 2001. So, why not just top-up Workfare for the older lower-income self-employed, without requiring any top-ups to receive it?
I would like to suggest that a break-down of Workfare recipients by employees, self-employed, age group, income brackets, etc, for 2006, 2007 and 2008, be made available to facilitate analysis, feedback and review on the Workfare policy.