Singapore Budget 2016: Substantive help for elderly, needy, says Halimah

Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob
Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob highlighted schemes such as the Workfare Income Supplement for lower-income workers, and Silver Support for the most vulnerable seniors.ST FILE PHOTO

Govt schemes balance dual needs of boosting economy and strengthening social safety nets, says Speaker

The elderly and needy were not forgotten in this year's Budget, which struck a good balance between boosting the economy and strengthening social safety nets, Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob said yesterday.

"I was a little concerned that because there is a lot of concern about the economy, the Budget will just completely focus on the economy and there will be less for the needy," she said. "But I am glad there are also quite substantive provisions for the needy."

She highlighted especially schemes such as the Workfare Income Supplement for lower-income workers, and Silver Support for the most vulnerable seniors.

Speaking to reporters after a dialogue with Marsiling residents about the Budget, Madam Halimah, who is an MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, held up Silver Support as "a great departure" from the past practice of always tying support schemes to work.

The scheme will make its first payout in July, with some 140,000 Singaporeans aged 65 and above receiving between $300 and $750 every three months.

"For those who are elderly, who can't work for whatever reason, it will be really useful for them," she said, citing as examples the seniors in wheelchairs at the session.

But she said schemes tied to work, such as the Workfare Income Supplement, are just as important "because we need to continue to reward work, otherwise people will not be incentivised to work".

BOOSTING SOCIAL MOBILITY

There is both substance and spirit in the first Budget of Singapore's post-SG50 era, and (Finance Minister) Heng Swee Keat's first. It takes us further in developing the two things we need most for our future: Innovative enterprises and a stronger, more caring society.

One really important aspect of our efforts: Helping the kids who start off with less to do well and move up. Few advanced societies have succeeded in this, which is why most of those born to parents with low incomes remain there throughout their own lives.

We still have more mobility in Singapore than most places, but we have to work much harder at this in the years to come. The key is to intervene during the early years in life. Give the kids the confidence that they can achieve, give them the exposure they would not normally get, and help offset the disadvantages of having poor or unstable homes. We must do more, and we will.

MR THARMAN SHANMUGARATNAM, Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, in a Facebook post yesterday.

The scheme, which tops up the pay of the bottom 20 per cent of workers, will have higher payouts.

Asked if this may lead to some people choosing to work just enough so they can qualify for the scheme, Madam Halimah said she did not think so.

She said: "Work gives us the kind of satisfaction that we can never find from just getting assistance."

She added that it is important for the younger generation to see their parents "working, striving, making an effort".

At the same time, there were also many initiatives to help businesses in this year's Budget, said Madam Halimah.

Describing this dual focus on the economy and the needy as unique, she said it is a recognition that economic growth is needed to fund increases in social spending.

"So this year's Budget... does not forget that for us to be able to contribute, for the Government to be able to strengthen the social safety net, the economy must grow, there must be jobs," she said.

Analysts such as Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan agreed. He said: "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 cease."

For housewife Mastura Rasid, 29, the greater social support from the Government is welcome news.

Now pregnant with her third child, Ms Mastura said the quarterly Silver Support payments will help with her 65-year-old mother's expenses, while other schemes targeted at parents will help pay for the children's care. "I feel quite fortunate, as these schemes are going to help my family a lot," she said.

Parliament will sit for two weeks, starting next Monday, to debate the Budget as well as the plans and policies of various ministries and key government agencies for the year ahead.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2016, with the headline 'Substantive help for elderly, needy: Halimah'. Print Edition | Subscribe