Ms He Ting Ru, the Workers’ Party Nember of Parliament for Seng Kang GRC, delivered a speech at the Budget 2023 debate on Thursday (23 Feb), urging the government to consider the lessons learned from the pandemic and to build a resilient nation. She highlighted the impact of Covid-19 on the most vulnerable in society, including the issue of food insecurity, and called for more attention to be paid to this issue. Ms He said:
“Recovery from Covid has not been equal for all of us. Some have lost loved ones. Some close to us may still be suffering the debilitating effects of long Covid. I would be surprised if anyone in this House can say that they do not have residents still seeking assistance because of lingering economic or other adverse effects of the pandemic.”
“Applied to the context of a country, this means that we must not find resilience by simply looking inward or becoming more insular – but by continuing to stay connected – within the communities around us in Singapore, but also with the world at large. We must be open to constructive criticism, and be enlightened enough to translate mistakes into lessons learned. We need to walk together, bringing every corner of Singapore along equally on the journey forward. We cannot go it alone.”
Ms He also raised concerns about food insecurity, particularly among the poorer segments of the population. She noted that up to one in ten Singapore households are food insecure and called for the government to track this issue and measure the effectiveness of support schemes. Ms He said:
“It is imperative that we ensure that lower income households do not end up drastically cutting back on nutrition given ever-increasing costs. In this, I am reminded of a retiree who came to my Meet-the-People Session who told me that he was sometimes reduced to filling his stomach with white bread because anything else was a luxury.”
“The impact of this falls disproportionately on children and the elderly, with many adverse health effects taking root from poor nutrition. If left untackled, it has the potential to further entrench generational poverty. Poor nutrition also has an effect on outcomes for various chronic illnesses like diabetes and cancer.”
Ms He called for more attention to be paid to this issue in the wake of Healthier SG’s launch and the pivot to preventative healthcare. She also highlighted the importance of raising awareness of initiatives and support schemes available to vulnerable residents who may not always get the help they need when it is most needed. Ms He said:
“Aside from the support packages announced this year, there may be many initiatives and support schemes available to help these residents, but a lack of awareness and the scarcity effect means that vulnerable residents do not always get the help that they need when it is most needed.”
On the well-being of Singapore’s society and people, Ms He praised the enhancements to the tax and financial incentives for young couples to have children and the introduction of tripartite guidelines to allow parents to request flexible working arrangements, but also emphasized that economic incentives and tinkering with the workforce structure are only part of the picture when it comes to building a Singapore for families to thrive.
Ms He expressed concern that large groups of Singapore’s population, namely those who are unmarried or childless, are left out of the enhanced baby bonus tweaks. She called for the equalizing of financial support to children of single unwed parents, as children of unmarried mothers do not have a choice. She also recommended that singles should be able to purchase new flats from the age of 28, rather than the current 35, as the number of singles across all age groups has increased according to the 2020 Census.
Ms He also spoke about the epidemics of loneliness and mental health struggles caused by Covid and its aftermath. Recent studies indicate that more Singaporeans are feeling isolated, and younger people were found to be more likely to report loneliness across cultures, genders, and geographies.
She called for urgent attention to the scale of the problem and its effects on physical and mental well-being. She was also alarmed to read that one in three youth in Singapore report internalizing mental health symptoms like sadness, anxiety, and loneliness, and that one in six externalizes symptoms such as hyperactivity and aggression.
Ms He emphasized the need for early intervention and more awareness at both the individual and systemic levels to spot mental health issues early and get children and people the help they need. She also spoke about the knock-on effects of having a family member struggling with mental health on the rest of the household and the importance of supporting and normalizing the struggles of parents and carers.
Ms He also noted that stress and clinical burnout can be equally damaging to physical health, and that sleep deprivation has adverse effects on an individual’s ability to function, particularly children and teenagers. She recommended later school start times to align with the natural body clocks of children and adolescents.
Lastly, Ms He emphasized the need for more measures to enable blue collar workers, migrant workers, and gig workers to adapt to the effects of extreme heat caused by rising temperatures.
She called for investment in better cooling infrastructure when building flats, especially rental flats, to sustainably cool down Singapore’s buildings.
“Extreme heat and weather events also affect our families. Households in rental flats report that the temperatures in their homes during the day can be quite unbearable, particularly during the dry and hot seasons.”
“More needs to be done to sustainably cool down our buildings, and we need investment in better cooling infrastructure when building flats, especially rental flats.”
“So it is that even as we support this year’s Budget, I hope that we will make true and meaningful progress that our people will feel supports them to better navigate the challenges facing us as individuals, as families, as a society, and as citizens of this blue planet that we call home.”