Budget debate

Look at helping middle-income group: MPs

To provide more help to the middle-income, MPs suggested changing criteria used to determine who gets financial help, as well as the amount doled out. The current approach tends to use size and value of housing type as a primary factor but some livin
To provide more help to the middle-income, MPs suggested changing criteria used to determine who gets financial help, as well as the amount doled out. The current approach tends to use size and value of housing type as a primary factor but some living in HDB flats may be financially better off than those in private properties, they noted.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Families who are better off appear to be left out in the new Budget, despite measures to help households and workers, according to five MPs who spoke yesterday.

They come from both sides of the House, and suggested changing rebate criteria to better cater to those caught in the middle by impending price hikes.

Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten), Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC) and the Workers' Party's Non-Constituency MPs Dennis Tan and Daniel Goh said the water price hike, coupled with the diesel oil tax and planned carbon tax, will raise living costs.

And these come amid worries of job insecurity for professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), they noted.

"Singaporeans are concerned that that's too many bullets to bite at a go," said Mr David.

TOO MUCH AT ONE TIME

Singaporeans are concerned that that's too many bullets to bite at a go.

MR DARRYL DAVID (Ang Mo Kio GRC), about the water tariff hike and the diesel oil tax coming amid worries of job insecurity for workers.

Mr Lim, who said many residents in his Mountbatten constituency live in five-room flats or private properties, urged Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat to consider a stay on water price increases for this year, given the economic uncertainty.

Dr Goh noted that middle-income households do not have as large a rebate as lower-income households to soften the impact of the water price increase.

To provide more help to the middle-income group, MPs suggested changing the criteria used to determine who gets financial help such as rebates and grants, as well as the amount doled out.

The current approach tends to use size and value of housing type as a primary factor.

But there may also be those living in Housing Board flats who are financially better off than some living in private properties, such as retirees who no longer draw an income, noted Mr Lim and Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC).

Mr David said there may be some people who are less well-to-do but need bigger flats for their families.

He suggested pegging the Central Provident Fund housing grant to a percentage of a flat's purchase price, up to a cap, rather than a fixed amount.

Ms Tan noted that it is not fiscally sustainable to grow the pool of people getting help but requested that the Government relook the distribution "to ensure that those who need help do receive it".

She added that middle-income workers will need help to move across roles or industries, or from employment to entrepreneurship.

She said several economies are seeing a growing discontent among the middle-income group, so Singapore must ensure its measures are effective in helping this group deepen their skills to adapt.

"It's not just about finding employment but (that) they can continue to find fulfilling jobs and see opportunities to improve their lives and that of their families," she said.

Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) said even lifelong learning can widen inequality, as it is often undertaken by people who are already better off.

There should be a way to help all citizens learn while they earn, she added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2017, with the headline 'Look at helping middle-income group: MPs'. Print Edition | Subscribe