Budget 2016

Analysts welcome boost to social support

Measures to boost social support in this year's Budget were welcomed by analysts, especially in the light of an expected economic slowdown this year.
Measures to boost social support in this year's Budget were welcomed by analysts, especially in the light of an expected economic slowdown this year. ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

Measures to boost social support in this year's Budget were welcomed by analysts, especially in the light of an expected economic slowdown this year.

While there was a strong focus on the economy - and especially on small and medium-sized enterprises, with a raft of new schemes to give such businesses a leg-up - academics and political commentators alike told The Straits Times they were heartened that the man in the street was not forgotten.

Enhancements to employment and social support programmes such as the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) and the Public Assistance scheme show that the Government is committed to regular investments and improvements to its social mobility levers, said Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan.

WIS payments will now be made monthly instead of quarterly, while payouts have also been increased. Those on public assistance will also get more: For instance, a two-person household where both are on assistance will now get $870 per month, an $80 increase from before.

"While this year's Budget is very economy-centric, the Government is showing that it is not going to let all the earlier investments on the social front, such as in the Pioneer Generation Package and MediShield Life, come to an end," said Associate Professor Tan. "It signals that, even for a prudent Budget, public funds are found for these different measures on the social and welfare front, and that augurs well for future Budgets in this term of government."

Labour economist Walter Theseira agreed, noting that this year's Budget also fleshed out in greater detail the specifics of schemes such as Silver Support, first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the National Day Rally in 2014, and the Fresh Start Housing Scheme announced at last year's rally.

Seniors eligible for Silver Support payments will receive their first payout in July. It will be a one-time double payout for two quarters, as the Government had earlier said payments would begin in the first quarter of this year.

"It is largely staying the course with no significant departures, and continues the two objectives we saw in previous Budgets: to try and restructure the economy while boosting social inclusion," said Dr Theseira, a senior lecturer at SIM University.

Analysts such as National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan also applauded the Budget for its focus on developing Singaporeans, especially the young.

Among the programmes announced were KidStart, which will use government and community resources to help children aged up to six receive learning, developmental and health support, and the new Child Development Account First Step grant, where parents of children born on or after March 24 will automatically get $3,000 that can be used for healthcare and childcare.

"The new KidStart scheme, and the premium it places on lifting a child out of disadvantaged social circumstances, is very progressive as it is targeted at an age group often neglected by public policy because there is no demonstrable outcome, no goal posts to pass compared to when they are older and have started schooling," said Dr Straughan.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 29, 2016, with the headline 'Analysts welcome boost to social support'. Print Edition | Subscribe