Let’s deal with elderly poverty now

Every old person in Singapore who is struggling to survive is one too many. Singapore is not some highly indebted Third world country. We are supposed to have one of the highest standards of living in the world, going by our GDP per capita. But this is certainly not the case for more than 66,000 of our old folks. We should aim to reduce to zero the number of elderly persons who are struggling to survive because of finances.

Sunday Routine On 23 August, the Straits Times ran a story titled, “Not-so-golden years for the elderly in Singapore”. It highlighted how, according to the Active Ageing Index, our elderly are not doing well in three areas: health, financial security and community engagement.

This index was compiled by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) as part of a report titled, “The State of the Elderly in Singapore 2008/2009”, which was commissioned by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS). It can be downloaded from the MCYS website.

While health and, to a lesser extent, community engagement are important, the area I’m most concerned about for our elderly is financial security. This is also the area in which a change government policy can make a big difference in the lives of our senior citizens.

Continue reading “Let’s deal with elderly poverty now”

Growth must improve welfare of Singaporeans: Sylvia Lim

Our ultimate aim of growth is to improve the welfare of all citizens. GDP is not an adequate indicator of welfare, and the government’s pursuit of growth in the recent years has had serious side-effects on the quality of life, and social cohesion.

This was the speech Non-constituency MP and Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim delivered in Parliament yesterday.

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Each year, the government has certain GDP growth targets and plans the Budget and policies around it.  This year, the government has put in place a productivity target recommended by the Economic Strategies Committee.

Whatever measure is used, the ultimate aim of growing our economy must be to forge a higher quality of life for all our citizens.  Though not everyone has the same talents and capabilities, our growth must provide every person with a good standard of living and a sense of physical and economic security.   We may be a small country geographically, but within our borders, citizens should feel at home and valued as persons and not just for economic contributions. Continue reading “Growth must improve welfare of Singaporeans: Sylvia Lim”

Comments to Wanbao about Singapore’s social welfare system

The local Chinese evening daily, Lianhe Wanbao (联合晚报), emailed me earlier this week to ask for my comments on Singapore’s social welfare system. This was with reference to the article in The Economist (“The stingy nanny”), which I blogged about on 15 February. The Wanbao article appeared this evening.

The following are my responses to the reporter’s questions: Continue reading “Comments to Wanbao about Singapore’s social welfare system”

The Economist calls Singapore a ‘stingy nanny’

The respected British weekly, The Economist, has published a cutting criticism of Singapore’s social safety net in its latest edition dated 13 February 2010, titled “Welfare in Singapore: The stingy nanny”. Here are some excerpts.

The respected British weekly, The Economist, has published a cutting criticism of Singapore’s social safety net (or lack thereof) in its latest edition dated 13 February 2010, titled “Welfare in Singapore: The stingy nanny”. Here are some excerpts:

Citizens are obliged to save for the future, rely on their families and not expect any handouts from the government unless they hit rock bottom.
In government circles “welfare” remains a dirty word, cousin to sloth and waste.
The most destitute citizens’ families may apply for public assistance; only 3,000 currently qualify.
Applicants complain that the process of seeking help is made tiresome and humiliating. Indeed that could be the point, supposing it deters free-riders.
But the thinness of the safety net also reflects a widespread article of faith, recited and reinforced over the years. Even among the social workers who work in hard-hit communities there is surprisingly little frustration at the meagreness of the handouts on offer or at the lengthy application process.
In 2008 the World Bank rated it the third richest country in the world, in terms of GDP per head at purchasing-power parity. And the idea that its Big-Brotherly government might be outfoxed by conniving welfare queens seems odd.
Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding father and still its “minister mentor” has maintained that ambitious migrants help to keep citizens on their toes. In an interview given to National Geographic last July he said that if native Singaporeans lag behind “hungry” foreigners because “the spurs are not stuck on [their] hinds”, that is not the state’s problem to solve.
The Economic Society of Singapore (ESS)—not exactly a radical cell—recently proposed to a government committee that it should build a more robust safety net, starting with unemployment insurance. This would promote social stability and help muster public support for Singapore’s open-door migration policies, it argues. Properly designed, such measures would not create disincentives to work and thrift. “While self-reliance is a good principle in general, it may be neither efficient nor just if taken to extremes,” noted the ESS.

Citizens are obliged to save for the future, rely on their families and not expect any handouts from the government unless they hit rock bottom.

In government circles “welfare” remains a dirty word, cousin to sloth and waste.

The most destitute citizens’ families may apply for public assistance; only 3,000 currently qualify.

Applicants complain that the process of seeking help is made tiresome and humiliating. Indeed that could be the point, supposing it deters free-riders.

But the thinness of the safety net also reflects a widespread article of faith, recited and reinforced over the years. Even among the social workers who work in hard-hit communities there is surprisingly little frustration at the meagreness of the handouts on offer or at the lengthy application process.

In 2008 the World Bank rated it the third richest country in the world, in terms of GDP per head at purchasing-power parity. And the idea that its Big-Brotherly government might be outfoxed by conniving welfare queens seems odd.

Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding father and still its “minister mentor” has maintained that ambitious migrants help to keep citizens on their toes. In an interview given to National Geographic last July he said that if native Singaporeans lag behind “hungry” foreigners because “the spurs are not stuck on [their] hinds”, that is not the state’s problem to solve.

The Economic Society of Singapore (ESS)—not exactly a radical cell—recently proposed to a government committee that it should build a more robust safety net, starting with unemployment insurance. This would promote social stability and help muster public support for Singapore’s open-door migration policies, it argues. Properly designed, such measures would not create disincentives to work and thrift. “While self-reliance is a good principle in general, it may be neither efficient nor just if taken to extremes,” noted the ESS.

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Continue reading “The Economist calls Singapore a ‘stingy nanny’”

76-year old cardboard lady in Singapore

This AFP news clip has appeared in several other blogs, but I think it’s worth re-posting it here. It’s so sad to see this. Is this the way our nation treats the people who helped build it?

To provide public assistance to all elderly Singaporeans in this situation will be but a drop in the bucket for the government. Instead the criteria for receiving public assistance is that you have to be completely destitute and without any family who can assist you.

Despite all the need out there like the old lady in the clip, there are only 3,000 people in the whole of Singapore who are receiving public assistance to the tune of $260 a month. That adds up to $780,000 a month, which is  much less than a Minister gets paid in one year.

Affordable uni education for poly grads

I am glad to learn from the President’s speech in Parliament on Monday that Singapore is opening up a new government-subsidised tertiary institute designed for more polytechnic graduates to be able to obtain their university degrees locally.

I think this is long overdue. I know of so many poly graduates who, because they were not in the top 10% of their class, did not qualify for local universities. Their parents had to fork out thousands for them to study overseas, usually in Australia. Apart from the drain on finances for individual families, on a national level this money could have been spent locally, contributing to the Singapore economy, instead of the Australian economy. And for the many families who couldn’t afford an Australian education, it is unfortunate that their sons and daughters were denied a quality university education because of financial constraints, and had to join the ranks of middle rung workers working for imported foreign talent.

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