Minister of Education Ong Ye Kung said in Parliament that tacking inequality is a problem Singapore has wrestled with since its birth, and which remains unfinished business today. However, he noted that unlike the growing underclasses and stagnating economic outlook of many developed countries, Singapore’s median income continues to rise.
“Low- and middle-income families continue to experience real income growth and social mobility,” he said, “Singaporeans have been enjoying a rising standard of living and are motivated to do well. This is both a result of our culture - who we are - as well as public policies.” said Mr Ong.
On the other hand, he admitted that due to Singapore’s high base there is a rising middle class facing difficulty in material progress; low-income families struggling to uplift themselves and some higher-income segments becoming socially distant from the rest.
But universal welfare was not the solution to all these problems, said Mr Ong. “In Singapore, half of our population do not pay personal income taxes, and GST is still single-digit. If we want universal welfare, taxes on ordinary folks, including the middle-income, will have to be much higher,”
He said a better way forward would be to enable people to help themselves, “We make help available to them, but we also preserve their motivation, so that they continue to strive, instead of being passive recipients of welfare,”
He then stressed the importance of a strong middle-income core, pointing out how Singapore’s Gini coefficient is about 0.36, which is better than the US (0.39) and about the same as the UK, but higher than other European countries and Japan owing to their welfare systems. The closer it is to zero, the more equal the society.
The rest of his speech can be viewed on this CNA video:
Some readers reacted positively on Mr Ong’s speech reported on CNA Facebook as could be read on their posted comments:
Clement Lim wrote: I agree with Minister Ong YK. We must be careful not to be too lax and free with handouts less it foster a culture of reliance. Singapore is a small country, whose resource is her people. We need everyone to work hard for the betterment of our country and not depend on government handouts which is after all public money. Glad that the government has these considerations in mind and careful in giving handouts and in determining its quantum.
Benjamin Isaiah Tan wrote: I feel that it is good that Handouts targeted specific groups of people. The way to help everyone achieve equality is by helping the less fortunate more. Just like how a Good Geacher would spend more time on a weaker student. The mark of a responsible government indeed
Ho Soo Hui wrote: Totally agree with what the Minister, whatever come easy will not be cherished and valued . There need to be allocation of resources to the less wealthy to enable them to compete more equally with those with more resources. Allocation of resources should be enabler not a demotivating factor for persons to lead better lives.
Chiew TK wrote: Everyone has their low and high points. Receive help when you need and render back when you are better-off. I am glad we have a government who exercises discretionary social welfare.
But many readers reacted negatively, their comments criticized and condemned Mr Ong's speech:
Pat Eng wrote: Our key problem is govt is business govt. Business objective is to make profits and that is why the people are customers to govt and govt-related companies. With that govt opened the floodgates to lower their cost. Salaries stagnated and the wealth gap widens. Can the govt go back to basics, protect the country and make Singapore a home for Singaporeans???
Jason Tay wrote: If you are out to serve for the people, for the country, please lead by example- take lesser pay perhaps.
Tan Cheng wrote: Guan all talk no action. why no action to create opportunities for the people so that there is no need to even talk about handouts? call yourself people's action party?!? 😂🤣
Alex Chng wrote: Talking about handouts. Pap started this during every election! Gst rebates... angpao to Senior citizens. Give u a drumstick and take back whole chicken after winning.
Charlie Teo wrote: Talk without thinking. Never practice what they preach. We don't need these kind of leaders. The country will not be at any loss without them.
Shannon Knight wrote: Is it dignified to boast the highest GDP per capita, while your elderly citizens clean tables and toilets?
Frank Young wrote: Really? Since you mention it then why are businesses in Singapore getting so much easy handouts?...cmon...you know what I am talking about. Sometimes it better not to say so much.
Jason Teo wrote: Dignity… is cut all ur pay and invest in medical structures. Lower cost of medical (care) which is obscenely overcharged. Instead of thinking how to make money thru land sales, rentals and taxes to make the people suffer…
Yeow H Tan wrote: Rubbish...those who need help in their old age are those who help build the country...the country should bear the burden to help them with some living assistance.
David Tan Hock San wrote: To add injury to insults, handouts have always been used as baits to entice votes in past elections. Hello Ong Ye Kung?
Emdy MK wrote: Sure, we can be more self-reliance if you scrap certain taxes which will lower the consumer cost of living in Singapore. If not, then you are all talks & no action. Hmm... what is that “something” that make the most noise...
Benson Tan wrote: I agree self-reliance enables us to lead dignified lives. Therefore, please resign. We do not need to rely on you or your so-called "good leadership". We are actually doing fine without you and your 9% GST.
WH Wong wrote: I still remember some clown from this cult ever asserted that it is imperative to have high salary so that it would have the necessary dignity to face up with world leaders, officials, dignitaries and CEOs! But they have been taking the globally top handouts with dignity from the tax payers, have they really serve but instead admonish the very people who have given them dignity for years when and if the latter were asking (his "demanding") for more such dignity as being lesser of dignity?
Ab Ram wrote: Have u seen people bought near rotten veg/fruits from the supermarket at discounted price? I have, all the time. Why? I am sure all of u r enjoying the best of the best food
Lingyi Hong wrote: Talking about dignity, then all the ministers should not be drawing such a high salaries.
Obek Laklan wrote: We don't need all the handouts...just don't make our lives so difficult...pls!
Matthew Yang Yeah wrote: taking handouts is not dignity so please stop digging into our CPF and start to earn your own keep.
Others posted comments on the post presenting their view from different perspectives:
Jaysutha Pillay wrote: There are many out there who need it and are in dire! What kinda of dignity do u expect one to have when in dire!!!! A lady cried and thanked me touching my feet when I bought her food!!!! She and her two down syndrome kids hadn’t eaten 2 days. I had to stop her from touching my feet. I felt so sick wheI i heard her wail n say her kids and herself hadn’t eaten..what kind of a place do we live!!!!
Jude Tan wrote: This balances between those truly in need vs those who choose the easy way out. The real question is whether those willing and able to work should subsidize those able but unwilling to work. For the truly marginalized, as a compassionate society, we must of course be willing to help.
Sarah M Kung wrote: More government is the problem. And those who insist on eating at restaurants frequently, spending tax payers money on luxury items, travel around the world, while lower class struggles. Then they turn around and guilt the middle to finance the lower... like most mention, practice what you are preaching. Another thing, how about government positions work pro bono, as a civil service to the people you work for? Take no money for the civil positions... allow those funds to rebuild the community you preside over...
Cao Yan wrote: I think there's just too many who have fallen into the crevices who truly need help. I doubt we have a nation of people who want handouts, but we do have a certain group of people who are really unable to work, and who truly need the financial assistance. Surely something can be done for them????
Yan Tan wrote: In other welfare states, citizens are angry because their tax money is used for handouts. I think the approach should be targeted, and when used, to be used as a spring board.
Goh Super wrote: We dont need hangout. If you and your fellow pap member dare to fight the Worker Party on a 1 to 1 election on the next election coming this 2020 . You are consider a gentleman. Dare you or not cause this is a hangout
Derek Pang wrote: 72 year old cabbie did not want your hand out...but what did you do? You brought in Private Hire Vehicle?
Yochana Abigail Yule wrote:
You’re the Government. You decide who are deserving of the handouts (conditions attached) and who shouldn’t. Since when have your handouts to the poor and underprivileged been dispensed unconditionally? Who’s asking for unconditional handouts?? Please elaborate. What’s the percentage?
I think it is wise to stop your judgmental labeling of the poor in general. If there are black sheep identify and filter them. Far too frequently, this G had been using social handouts as a means to run down the poor. In so doing, AREN’T YOU EFFECTIVELY ROBBING THE POOR OF THEIR DIGNITY?!!
Through self-reliance we are already seeing more and more elderly aunties and uncles clearing up dishes at food courts, hawker centers; cleaning the toilets and last but not least, collecting cardboard cartons as a means to self-sustain their daily expenses. Isn’t that self-reliance?
Arrogance will bring you down. Compassion will bring you closer to the people.