Social welfare schemes are not demeaning

Singaporean society is not as depressingly inequitable as shown by the figures that Mr Paul Chan uses (Trim excessive wage to improve wealth distribution; Dec 18).

Per capita income does place us in the global top 1 per cent, but we are the second-most unequal society only if assistance schemes and redistribution through financial enhancements are totally ignored.

It is reflective of our dearth of talent that Singapore always pays a premium for outstanding, rare talents. It is debatable whether we should pay people with superior skills who can steer a company of thousands towards plump profits many times more than what we pay easily replaceable workers.

We can be stuck with a mediocrity mindset and this is not a philosophy that has brought Singapore to where we are today.

But Mr Chan is right - pay incentives can run amok, so that middling talent can game the system and get away with rich bonuses before the long-term inimical effects are felt by companies.

In this respect, a maximum wage, which still must be competitively incentivising, should be studied.

Per capita income does place us in the global top 1 per cent, but we are the second-most unequal society only if assistance schemes and redistribution through financial enhancements are totally ignored.

With globalisation, cheap labour for menial work is a fact of life and the seemingly hapless Singaporean caught in the vice of inflation and stagnating basic wage has every right to feel neglected in the bottom strata of society.

The employer doesn't want to pay him a cent more and the imposition of a minimum wage will simply cause his job to be taken over by foreign labour.

Here's where social welfare programmes can give a big hand, as only citizens qualify for these wage redeemers.

Contrary to what Mr Chan says, I have yet to see any needy people suffer any loss of dignity through accepting these hand-outs. If anything, they just wish it were more, dignity be damned.

Yik Keng Yeong (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2018, with the headline 'Social welfare schemes are not demeaning'. Print Edition | Subscribe