Make it easier for people to find income in hard times

As someone who has spent the better part of a decade in freelance employment, I was delighted to read Dr Patrick Liew Siow Gian's letter ("Unemployment benefits: Better to focus on raising number, quality of jobs"; last Wednesday).

Dr Liew is correct in the main thrust of his argument - that we need more and better jobs.

I also agree that what we need to do is to incentivise work.

I have been through the pain of being unemployed. I have been through the pain of worrying about whether I could afford a bus ride.

But I have been lucky to have family and friends who had the means and willingness to help me through the rough patches.

I understand that it is not a personal failure to be out of work.

The global economy is now such that decent, hard-working people can lose their jobs at the drop of a hat because of a decision from some unknown person in another part of the world.

That said, we need to create a culture where people understand that the only reliable social network is one's self.

Having lived in the West during my formative years, I have seen how the noble intentions behind social welfare programmes were ruined by abuse.

The concept of welfare being a "helping hand" - the so-called "easy money" from the state - becomes an alternative to work.

When people find an alternative to work, they lose the pride that comes from supporting themselves, and eventually become alienated from everyone else.

While I agree that we need to look after people during hard times, we should do so by helping them to help themselves.

The Government is on the right track with its Workfare payments for older and lower-wage workers, as opposed to welfare payments for people who don't work at all.

More can be done.

Platforms such as Uber and Airbnb have made it easier for people to monetise their cars and spare rooms in their homes.

But our laws restrict people from utilising things that could help them earn money, especially in hard times.

During the 1997 economic crisis, people in other parts of the region could do things such as set up noodle shops, and they created little side businesses when they lost their jobs.

They had the means to create an alternative to their day jobs. This is something we should look into.

Tang Li

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2016, with the headline 'Make it easier for people to find income in hard times'. Print Edition | Subscribe