SINGAPORE — About half of the 1,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents polled in September felt that the Singapore government was not doing enough to support less well-off families.

This was according to findings from a survey commissioned by The Straits Times and conducted by market research firm Milieu Insight in September on topics from Forward Singapore.

The Forward Singapore campaign was launched by Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong in June this year to examine Singapore’s values and aspirations, build consensus, and so refresh the social compact with the people.

The six key pillars of the Forward Singapore nationwide engagement exercise include jobs and the economy, health and social support, environment and fiscal sustainability, education and lifelong learning, home and living environment, and the Singapore identity.

ST’s survey also noted that a majority felt the Government did not provide sufficient social support for the “sandwiched generation” – working adults who care for both elderly parents and children.

The survey found that only about one in four was willing to pay higher taxes for more support programmes.

ST, in its report did not give fine details about the findings but noted that those who were most agreeable with the idea, were aged between 35 and 44, followed by those 25 to 34. At the same time, the 35 to 44 age group was also least willing to pay higher taxes for more support programmes (17 per cent).

National University of Singapore (NUS) sociologist Tan Ern Ser was quoted to say that it is understandable that those in the 35 to 44 age group are less supportive of paying high taxes as they are the ones with dependants to support, possibly including seniors,

One netizen commenting on ST’s Facebook post also suggests that one reason why only one out of four agrees with increasing the tax for more support programmes is that the other three feel they might the recipients of the support programme themselves — which somewhat aligns with what Associate Professor Tan had commented.

NUS College vice-dean of special programmes and sociologist Daniel Goh said that given the dominant role of philanthropy and social service agencies in fighting against socio-economic inequality, as well as Singapore’s legacy of focusing on Workfare in lieu of direct welfare payments, the 23 per cent willing to pay more taxes to fund social support is a “very high percentage”.

Counterproductive to simply hand out cash

Speaking at the International Conference on Cohesive Societies held at the Raffles City Convention Centre on 8 September, Mr Wong noted that income inequality in Singapore has been narrowing over the last decade, and low-income workers have seen their salaries rising faster than that of the median-income worker.

This was in response to a question about what Singapore can do for marginalised groups.

Mr Wong acknowledged that many low-income families continue to struggle, and the Government is continually looking at how to help them.

He said that it may be counterproductive to simply hand out cash to such households, as some of the problems might be marital in nature, or related to past criminal conduct or addictions.

Instead, he said Singapore adopts a “family-centric approach” that brings different government agencies together to help the family in need.

This is highly resource-intensive and requires a lot of coordination among people such as counsellors, social workers and volunteers just to help one family, he noted.

But such work is essential as nobody in Singapore must be left behind even as the country strives towards becoming an open cosmopolitan and global city, Mr Wong said.

Workers’ Party object to GST hike, Finance Minister says GST Vouchers will help

When the GST hike of 2 per cent was debated in Parliament on 28 February this year, Workers’ Party (WP) objected to the hike.

Pritam Singh, WP Secretary General and Leader of the Opposition highlighted that the hike will come as “inflation is on the upswing and prices are high”.

“Supply chain disruptions are having an outsized impact on people’s purses. There is a real concern on the ground that the announcement to raise the GST will lead to price rises across the board,” he said.

“In fact, some price rises have already occurred with speculation that these were in anticipation of a GST hike.”

Mr Wong who is also the Finance Minister said that the Government will add S$640 million to the S$6 billion Assurance Package – announced in 2020 – and improve the GST Voucher (GSTV) scheme, to cushion the impact of the GST hike.

He added that the enhanced Assurance Package will cover at least five years of additional GST expenses for the majority of Singaporean households, and about ten years for lower-income households.

However, Mr Singh warned that should the aggregate price increases be “significant”, the impact of the additional offsets might not be as optimistic as highlighted.

“In spite of the headline-grabbing GST offset package announced at this Budget, there is anxiety as to how much prices will rise in future over the period the offset package would cover,” he said, adding that no offset package would last forever.

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