The four political parties contesting the most seats in the 2020 General Election (GE) had their first inter-party political debate on Wednesday (1 July). These parties include the Workers’ Party (WP), Progress Singapore Party (PSP), Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and incumbent People’s Action Party (PAP).
Each political party was represented by one candidate in the debate. They were Vivian Balakrishnan from the PAP, Chee Soon Juan from the SDP, Jamus Lim from the WP, and Francis Yuen from the PSP.
In the last question of the debate’s first segment, the four parties were asked how would they improve the country’s social mobility and help Singaporeans who feel they have been left behind.
SDP’s Chee Soon Juan highlighted the issues with “elite schools”
In response to the question, Mr Chee noted that elderly people are unable to “even make ends meet having to sell cardboard”, as he compared it with ministers’ salaries.
“That is simply not right,” said the SDP chief, who is contesting in Bukit Batok Single Member Constituency (SMC) in this election.
He also pointed out issues with “elite schools” such as National Junior College and Singapore Chinese Girls’ School being housed in Bukit Timah, while schools like Whitley and Swiss Cottage secondary schools have moved out of the area.
“Education is the great leveller. When you have a system like this, where you put all your neighbourhood schools outside of the choicest district, and then you put all your top schools in, you are going to get this widening of not just in society, but ultimately in our income divide and that’s not something which we really should be going towards,” Mr Chee added.
PSP’s Francis Yuen: First thing to do is spend more money to invest in a strong social safety net
Citing a survey that showed Singapore has over 100,000 households living in poverty, Mr Yuen indicated a “majority of people” in the country are “third-world citizens from a viewpoint of poverty” despite Singapore being a first-world country.
“Something is wrong, basically. How can a country, which is so prosperous, end up with this level of poverty?” he questioned.
Mr Yuen highlighted the issue of “great income inequality” in Singapore. He added the PSP believes that the “first thing to do” is to allocate more money to invest in a strong social safety net, which the nation is lacking now.
By having a strong social safety net, the COVID-19 crisis would have been “easier to handle”, he said.
The PSP candidate also pointed out that more money should be spent to help the poor as this is to ensure that they are being taken care of.
“We could have taken things like the insurance scheme for healthcare paid by the Government. That helps to relieve and give them more opportunity to actually, you know, have resources for other things,” he noted.
WP’s Jamus Lim highlights “equality of opportunities”
Meanwhile, Dr Lim opined that the Government should ensure that those who have been contributing to the nation’s economy and society for years are being taken care of, as this is a “very big part of social mobility”.
“We absolutely need to take care of our elderly that live among us,” he said. “It is really a crime that we see the elderly, continue to feel that they have to work in order to make ends meet.”
In reference to Mr Chee’s point about the “elite schools”, Dr Lim noted that the educational system used to provide “equality of opportunities” but now it doesn’t.
“When I was in school, we used to have an educational system where really there was equality of opportunities, but if you look at the schools now you don’t see that,” he explained.
According to him, another way to increase social mobility is to ensure that schools – that are not categorised as “elite schools” – would get a “disproportionately higher amount of educational spending”.
Dr Lim added decreasing class sizes in schools can also elevate the country’s social mobility, as this “ironically ends up penalising students who are in large class” because they are forced to take on private tuition.
Additionally, he said that “elements like a minimum wage” will also bring Singapore towards greater social mobility.
PAP’s Vivian Balakrishnan responds to points highlighted by the SDP, PSP and WP
In response to the points made by the alternative parties’ candidates, Dr Balakrishnan said that the PAP has focused on uplifting less well-off families to achieve the “equality of opportunities”.
“We don’t believe in class warfare, we don’t believe socking it to the rich, we believe in lifting – especially the less well-off, the most vulnerable, in order to achieve equality of opportunity that you’re aiming for,” he explained on the country’s social safety net.
Touching on the points about schools, Dr Balakrishnan said that it is not a question of “brand name or otherwise” but it’s about making “every school a good school”. He emphasised that they should look at the “real investments” which the Government has put in schools.
“I dare say every neighbourhood school we have is a school we can be very proud of,” the PAP candidate added. “Anywhere. I’ll take on any country’s schools, as far as we are concerned.”
He explained that there are various assistance packages being provided to vulnerable families, adding that additional cash – such as GST rebates – are “flowing” to the less well-off families especially in current times.
“I do not like to see seniors having to work unless they want to,” Dr Balakrishnan said. “And actually every constituency has the capability to make sure we don’t see this.”
Noting that the best form of welfare is a job, he said that “there is nothing more demoralising than long-term unemployment”.
“No amount of generous unemployment benefits can compensate for that.”
The PAP member agreed on the point about minimum wage, saying that “we are on the same page”. He went on to explain about the Progressive Wage Model that was introduced by the Government.
“We can argue, I think we agree on the aims, it’s a question of how we achieve it,” he said.
In response to Mr Yuen’s point on the social safety net, Dr Balakrishnan noted that Singapore has the “best healthcare system in the world”. He added that it is not a question of “how much we spend but how well we spend”.