By Leong Sze Hian

Image from ST
Image from ST

I refer to the article “Care for lower-income in times of slowdown: Chan Chun Sing” (Channel NewsAsia, Feb 8).

Slow-down in foreign labour?

It states that “the White Paper has proposed to slow down the intake of foreign labour and new citizens, not just bringing in fewer immigrants each year, but allowing more time for adjustment.”

Since the growth in foreign employment was 70,400 in 2012, and the growth rate of non-residents in the total labour force from 2011 to 2012 was 7.4 per cent, which is still much higher than that for residents at 1.9 per cent, how can we say that “the White Paper has proposed to slow down the intake of foreign labour” when the White Paper says that the current 1.49 million foreigners is projected to grow by up to 1.9 million in just seven years ‘ time?

Moreover, how can the increase in the intake of permanent residents (PRs) from 27,521
in 2011, to 30,000 a year in the future be a slow-down?

Slow-down in new citizens?

Also, how can we say that “the White Paper has proposed to slow down the intake of new citizens”, when there were only 15,777 new citizens in 2011 versus the White Paper’s projection of up to 25,000 new citizens a year in the future?

Slower growth means negative real income growth for low-income?

As to “”Growth will give us a better chance to help people to improve their lives over time. Growing slower does not mean we will have a more equal society. In fact if we grow below a certain rate, the low-income of our society actually suffers negative income growth in real terms”, how do we explain the fact that despite our growth focused strategies over the last decade, the 20th percentile of workers only had a real gross wage growth of 0.1 per cent per annum in the last decade?

Helping lower-income?

With regard to “Mr Chan also urged Singaporeans to care for the lower income groups during times of a slowdown in growth or no growth.

Mr Chan elaborated: “We must imbue in our more successful ones the sense of responsibility to help the weaker ones in society. We must agree as a society that those who have the least must be given more help”, since the primary reason given for raising the GST was to help the poor, let’s look at what we are doing in this regard.

ComCare – only $104m

The sum allocated to the ComCare and Social Support Programme was only $104 million, and only $25 million for the Elderly and Disability Programme.

So, this $104 million – according to the CDCs’ annual report for FY2011, the number of applications for financial assistance was 72,700 for the whole year from 1 April 2011 to 31 March 2012 – had to be distributed to so many needy families who were successful in their applications. How much on the average did each family get?

People’s Association – $338m

The second largest component of expenditure in the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYSS) was $338 million for the operating expenditure of the People’s Association (PA).

More help for lower-income in 2007?

When the GST rate was raised from 5% to 7% in July 2007, a household in the bottom 20% had to pay additional GST of $370 per year, but received an offset package of $910 per year, in addition to permanent benefits of $1,000 per year. (“Budget debate round-up speech“, Mar 2, 2011)

Less help now?

So, let’s see how much less lower-income families will get now.

It’s GST Cash of $250 and GST U-Save Rebate of $260 (1 and 2-room HDB) and no Medisave top-up if there are no family members age 65 and above.

Also, in the past, Medisave top-ups were given to those age 55 and above. So, why is the age now increased to 65 and above?

So, are lower-income families effectively getting much less now under the GST Voucher scheme, compared to the previous GST Offset Package?