Budget 2019 debate

All have benefited from low rates of income tax: Heng Swee Keat

Middle-and upper-income families may feel that the personal income tax rebate of 50 per cent - capped at $200 - in this year's Budget is insignificant, but Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat urged them not to forget how they have benefited from the low rates of income tax overall.

Income tax is progressive, meaning those who earn a bigger income pay a higher rate, and the top rate is 22 per cent, allowing workers to keep a large part of what they earn. This, Mr Heng said yesterday, is among the key factors helping to keep expenses manageable.

In his round-up speech on the Budget debate, Mr Heng noted comments from some quarters that there did not seem to be anything for them in this year's Budget.

Citing the speech by Ms Cheryl Chan (Fengshan) the previous day, he reiterated that the Budget should not be seen as a "bag of benefits that serves some people in one year or the other".

Instead, it is a multi-year plan that tackles Singapore's priorities as systematically as possible, he said.

"Because we take a long-term approach, we cannot see each year's Budget in isolation. One Budget builds on the foundation of earlier Budgets," he said.

"Even if there is nothing new for you this year, you and your family have certainly benefited from every one of our Budgets," he added.

 
 
 

Young people, for example, have benefited from stronger support in education, public housing and parenthood over the years, on top of opportunities a vibrant economy brings. They get up to $80,000 in grants for new Build-To-Order flats, and $120,000 for resale flats, he said.

Parents can receive a maximum of between $18,000 and $32,000 as well in marriage and parenthood benefits for each eligible child, and get paid maternity and paternity leave, tax benefits as well as pre-school subsidies.

Middle-income families who may feel "sandwiched" in supporting both retiree parents and school-going children benefit from other schemes too, as well as "significant education subsidies". Without these subsidies, families would have to pay more than 60 times the current fees for their children in school.

Schemes such as the Pioneer Generation and Merdeka Generation packages help ease healthcare costs for parents of the "sandwich class" too, and many will get top-ups this year, like to their children's Edusave account.

He stressed that all will gain from a strong and united Singapore, and the bicentennial commemoration this year is an "opportune time" to reflect on how far the country has come.

The bicentennial is also a time to reflect on what being an independent, sovereign nation means, he added, and this includes doing one's best to build on what past generations have done.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2019, with the headline 'All have benefited from low rates of income tax: Minister'. Print Edition | Subscribe