Budget Watch: How the Budget benefits kids in need

My First Skool in Boon Lay Drive benefits from the KidStart scheme for low-income children, one of the latest social policies on the Budget menu. Welfare programmes before 2011 were more on an ad hoc basis, it was noted.
My First Skool in Boon Lay Drive benefits from the KidStart scheme for low-income children, one of the latest social policies on the Budget menu. Welfare programmes before 2011 were more on an ad hoc basis, it was noted.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

KidStart working well; experts look to strengthening of more social safety nets

In last year's Budget, the Government set aside $20 million to help young children from low-income families in their learning and development.

The three-year pilot, KidStart, will benefit 1,000 children living in Kreta Ayer, Bukit Merah, Taman Jurong, Boon Lay and Geylang Serai.

Last July, 13-month-old Mathilda Wong was put in a playgroup when the programme was rolled out. After being around other toddlers, she is now more sociable, said her mother, Madam Melissa Lee, 22.

KidStart helps children aged up to six in three ways: home visits to ensure babies up to a year old have good nutrition and care; playgroups for those aged one to three; and executives at pre-schools to make sure children are going to school.

Mr Alfred Tan, chief executive of the Singapore Children's Society, said the help given to these children to ready them for primary school is vital, since their parents are not likely to do so themselves .

National University of Singapore (NUS) sociologist Tan Ern Ser said: "I have always advocated that helping a child is not merely a matter of giving money, but also of access to social and cultural capital, and KidStart has these ingredients."

  • $20m

    Amount earmarked to help young kids from low-income homes in their learning, health, development.

    1,000

    Number of children who will benefit during the three-year pilot.

 

KidStart is one of the latest social policies to have been introduced. Last year's Budget also presented the $320 million Silver Support Scheme to supplement the income of older Singaporeans.

Experts said a shift to the left took place after the 2011 General Election, which the ruling People's Action Party won with its lowest vote share since independence.

The party saw the message that not everyone had enjoyed the fruits of economic growth equally, and noted that those who were struggling were unhappy their concerns seemed to go unnoticed.

NUS political observer Bilveer Singh said previous welfare schemes were ad hoc, adding: "Since 2011, the Government has adopted a mantra of helping the poor, realising that if it does not do so, it will be politically punished with more seats lost."

With globalisation and a restructuring economy taking their toll on an ageing workforce, the Government has had to play a bigger role to ensure that wealth is distributed more equally.

Singapore Management University (SMU) law don Eugene Tan said: "There's a recognition (that) social safety nets must be strengthened in the light of changing demographics - ageing population, smaller families."

So this year's Budget, to be delivered in Parliament on Feb 20, will contain more help for the elderly, young families and those with disabilities, Senior Minister of State for Finance and Law Indranee Rajah told reporters on Tuesday.

Experts said they hope to see KidStart expanded into a permanent nationwide programme.

Also on their wish list: employment and income security; enhanced equality of opportunity; and help for families with children, seniors, people with special needs and single parents.

"KidStart may well be the start of more elaborate schemes of assistance for children from disadvantaged homes," said SMU's Prof Tan.

"We must strive to ensure that access to opportunities and social mobility remain robust. Equality of opportunity is more than a noble aspiration. It's an imperative if we are to avoid a society riven between the haves and the have-nots."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2017, with the headline 'How the Budget benefits kids in need'. Print Edition | Subscribe