Coronavirus: Huge support for drawdown on reserves, but many not sure it will save jobs

Nine in 10 Singaporeans polled back move to draw on reserves

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat seen on a TV screen announcing the Resilience Budget last Thursday.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat seen on a TV screen announcing the Resilience Budget last Thursday. ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

Nine in 10 Singaporeans support the move to draw on the reserves to fund part of the $48.4 billion supplementary Budget announced last Thursday to help tide the country over the coronavirus pandemic.

However, less than half of them are confident that the measures - which Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat had dubbed the Resilience Budget - will be enough to rescue jobs, going by a poll of 200 Singaporeans aged 21 and above conducted by The Straits Times.

Of those polled, 92 per cent approved the unprecedented $17 billion dip into the reserves, for which President Halimah Yacob has given in-principle approval. And 49 per cent felt the drawdown was enough.

"I think it is a good and timely package," said Mr Richard Yap, 53, a finance professional who is between jobs. "Obviously, the Budget is prepared on forecasts and there may be a shortfall. Nevertheless, our Government has indicated more supplementary support will be given on a case-by-case basis."

While about 20 per cent felt the drawdown was not enough, there were others who wondered if it might have been too much.

Communications sales consultant and property agent Yee Kou Tiong, 54, said: "I'm not sure if this is the right time to spend so much from the reserves, when the period that the pandemic will last is not known."

The lion's share of the drawdown - $13.8 billion - will go to the enhanced Jobs Support Scheme, under which the Government will fund 25 per cent of the first $4,600 of monthly wages for all local employees for nine months. Badly hit sectors will get more wage support - 75 per cent for businesses in aviation and tourism, and 50 per cent for those in food services.

Another $1.2 billion will fund the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (Sirs) that disburses cash payouts of $1,000 a month for nine months to eligible citizens.

Of the slew of measures being rolled out to help various sectors and groups, 53 per cent of those surveyed felt there was enough help coming, while 23 per cent thought it was insufficient and nearly as many - 21 per cent - said they were not sure and had to wait and see.

But only about four out of 10 thought the measures would save Singaporeans' jobs. Two out of 10 reckoned they would not, while the rest were undecided.

While teacher Daniel Tan, 43, thought the measures would be helpful to an extent, he argued that there needed to be oversight to ensure that companies made use of them to retain their workers through the downturn.

Housewife Cathy Han, 53, felt the help measures did not seem to focus on mid-level professionals. "Businesses, middlemen and lower-wage workers get a lot more attention," she said.

Business owner Robin Loh, 47, however, did not think there was enough aid for small entrepreneurs. "Small business owners are the worst-hit bunch, especially when we are in tourism.

"Despite zero takings, we need to support workers' salaries as well as rent. We are paying ourselves a small salary way below market rate, but it is not covered by the Jobs Support Scheme. Neither are we considered self-employed," he added.

While help for the self-employed through Sirs was welcome, videographer Amirul Azam, 31, felt the eligibility criteria could be more flexible. For instance, those who earn any income as employees do not qualify, he noted. "Some self-employed persons earn part-time employment income elsewhere when there are periods without gigs."

Freelance artist and illustrator Joycelyn Wong, 35, is among those who have been badly hit in the current crisis. "There is no creative work for me to do now," she said, adding that she was nevertheless glad there was Sirs.

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"Since my parents are not working any more, I can use the money to sustain our expenditure and look for new jobs in the coming months," she said. "Of course, the $1,000 is not meant for any form of luxury - it's enough to pay bills and for food when used prudently."

Respondents had other suggestions to alleviate people's financial burdens as the crisis wears on.

"The Government also needs to look into other measures, like deferring (Central Provident Fund) and Medisave contributions and putting the money back into the hands of the self-employed," said media professional M. Senthilnathan, 46. "It would also be good to cut electricity bills as most people are at home to maintain social distancing. We should look at reducing basic living costs," he added.

• Additional reporting by Athena Tan, Lim Rei Enn, Terese Teoh and Valerie Tay

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 02, 2020, with the headline Coronavirus: Huge support for drawdown on reserves, but many not sure it will save jobs. Subscribe