SINGAPORE - Middle- and upper-income families may feel the personal income tax rebate of 50 per cent - capped at $200 - in this year's Budget is insignificant, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, but he urged them not to forget how the overall low rates of income tax have benefited them.
Income tax is progressive, meaning that those who earn a bigger income pay a higher rate, and the top rate is 22 per cent, meaning workers keep a large part of what they earn.
This, said Mr Heng, is among the key factors helping to keep expenses manageable.
In his wrap-up speech on the third day of the debate on the Budget Statement, 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 on Thursday (Feb 28) that the national 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.
Singapore plans ahead, such as on what it needs to do about climate change as well as in growing the economy so that it has the resources to do more for the population, whose needs evolve and grow.
"Even if there's nothing new for you this year, you and your family have certainly benefited from every one of our Budgets," Mr Heng said.
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.
This comes in the form of up to $80,000 in grants for new Build-To-Order flats, and $120,000 for resale flats, he added.
Parents 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" as they support both retiree parents and schoolgoing children benefit from other schemes like the "significant education subsidies".
Without these subsidies, families would have to pay more than 60 times the current fees for their children in school, said Mr Heng, who added that university fees would also be four times what Singaporean students currently pay.
Schemes such as the Pioneer and Merdeka Generation packages help ease healthcare costs for the parents of the sandwiched class, too, and many will receive top-ups this year such as to their children's Edusave account.
He stressed that all will benefit 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 minister said he looks forward to volunteer groups, clan associations and religious groups continuing to come forward to help the disadvantaged, and to more people, such as academics and professionals, providing constructive suggestions on tackling national issues.
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.