In a speech during the Budget 2023 debate on Wednesday (22 Feb), Mr Dennis Tan, Workers’ Party Member of Parliament for Hougang SMC, spoke about the need to review and update approaches to aged care.
Highlighting the highly fragmented nature of the aged care sector and the challenges that seniors face in navigating the system, which he has observed during his conversations with senior residents in his constituency, Mr Tan emphasized the need for more holistic care that caters to the different needs of seniors, including social and medical needs — while welcoming the Government’s efforts to enhance the range of care and support options within the community, including the operating model of Active Ageing Centres.
He also called on the Ministry of Health to study how outreach efforts can be made more effective to seniors who are not active in active ageing centres, stay in touch with the centre staff, or even their neighbours.
Mr Tan also raised concerns about the means-tested subsidies for seniors who need home-based, centre-based, or institutional care, which are determined based on the monthly household income per person or the annual value of retired seniors’ residence.
He cited feedback from seniors in his constituency that the increase in the annual value of their homes has affected their eligibility for medical subsidies.
Mr Tan urged the Government to review the impact of the increase in the recent assessment of annual values on seniors’ eligibility for medical subsidies, especially for retired seniors living alone with no source of income.
In addition, Mr Tan called for an update on the current adequacy of nursing homes, including the adequacy of nursing homes for all and different categories of care. He recounted a resident’s experience of waiting for a nursing home place despite the availability of beds for other categories of nursing home care.
Mr Tan also touched briefly on the proposed changes to the Working Mother’s Child Relief from 2024 onwards, which will change tax reliefs for working mothers from a percentage of their income to a fixed sum for each child.
While the change benefits lower-income earning working mothers, Mr Tan pointed out that it may deter middle-income earning working mothers from having children or more children under the scheme.
Mr Tan questioned the net effect of this scheme on the budget and suggested giving a motherhood tax rebate to lower income working mothers, with tax credits paid out in cash if the tax rebates exceed the tax payable.
In addressing Singapore’s ongoing efforts towards a green transition. Mr Tan expressed his appreciation that Singapore has raised its national climate target to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, but also highlighted the need for a check on demand.
“While we adopt low-carbon technologies such as carbon capture, utilization and storage and low-carbon hydrogen for industrial heating, we must not feel that this helps to decouple industrial growth from the carbon constraint and that it allows us to continue business-as-usual,” Mr Tan said. “We live in an increasingly carbon-constrained world, and we must downsize or allow carbon inefficient activities to leave our economy to decarbonize effectively.”
Mr Tan emphasized the need for a detailed roadmap to retrain workers in carbon-intensive sectors as Singapore intentionally decarbonizes. He noted that while the SkillsFuture Singapore’s Skills Demand for the Future Economy (SDFE) Report 2022 identified sustainability skills as having high demand and transferability, there is still a time lag between the need to reskill and retrain workers and them actually acquiring and applying the skills.
“Do we have sufficient sustainability-related courses that businesses and workers can afford to attend – both in terms of time and money? How much more time will it take for the learning to be internalized and applied? We must take deliberate steps to help workers transition and we have to do so mindfully, since jobs today still need to be done,” Mr Tan said.
Mr Tan also called for an update on the electrification of Singapore’s vehicular fleet, emphasizing the need for a detailed roadmap to allow consumers to make informed choices earlier.
“Some key issues with EVs today include battery reliability, software problems and the lack of local infrastructure for charging EVs,” Mr Tan said.
“It also remains unclear how fast certain logistics fleets (including but not limited to light goods vehicles) will be switching to EVs entirely and a number of prominent logistics companies have not yet made any plans or have not announced any plans for EV conversion or some have preliminary plans for limited initial conversion.”
Mr Tan welcomed the announcement that 2,000 EV charging points will be installed in one-third of HDB carparks by the end of the year, but called for clarification on whether the EV Common Charger Grant allows or encourages the building of chargers powered by solar or renewable energy. He also asked for clarification on whether the grant will be extended beyond the current deadlines and parameters.
“A detailed EV roadmap can also outline pricing, power rating and plug type to enable all EV drivers to plan their charging schedules, including real time charging updates, which is currently not available on the MyTransport.SG app,” Mr Tan said.