Parliament: Long-term study on social inequality needed, says WP's Sylvia Lim

Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim called for the Government to do a longitudinal study to better understand the impact of government policies on social mobility.
Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim called for the Government to do a longitudinal study to better understand the impact of government policies on social mobility. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM YOUTUBE/GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - Discussions on social mobility and inequality in Singapore often hinge on statistics, but numbers do not adequately show if it has become harder for Singaporeans to move between social classes, said Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim on Wednesday (Feb 28).

She called for the Government to do a longitudinal study to better understand the impact of government policies on social mobility.

"The Government has noted in the past that we must not allow an underclass to form and so the Government has to show commitment to this goal," said the Aljunied GRC MP.

The issues of inequality and social mobility had drawn suggestions and impassioned speeches from MPs in the first and second day of the Budget debate.

On Wednesday, Ms Lim asked if inequality has become entrenched in Singapore due to Government policies.

She questioned if poor families were given "adequate and sustainable" support to care for children, education policies penalised those without a leg-up in preschool, and housing policies "unjustly discriminate" against those who are divorced.

"Can we say today that the lot of our poorer fellow Singaporeans is due to their lack of ambition or talent? Or does the system itself inadvertently make it difficult for them to succeed and thus perpetuate inequality?" she said.

Citing the differences between private health insurance and MediShield Life, Ms Lim said that "there is significant inequality in access to healthcare that affects the poorer and older Singaporeans".

While MediShield Life requires patients to pay a deductible or co-payment to avoid over consumption, some private insurance plans did not have these requirements, she said.

She also said that older people pay a higher premium and deductible under MediShield Life, amounting to "reverse discrimination for our older citizens".

To ensure that inequality does not become systemic, the Government must look into this and also conduct a longitudinal study tracking the fate of families over time, she said.

She pointed out the Government had said it would conduct longitudinal studies in 2013 and asked if any had been commissioned.

Lamenting that most discussions on social inequality have focused on numerical data, such as the Gini coefficient and household income statistics, Ms Lim said: "Beyond numbers, it is also necessary to dig deep into the daily lives of poor Singaporeans and evaluate the reasons why they do not seem to be able to catch up with the rest of society."

Later, Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) said he agreed with Ms Lim on the need for a study on social mobility, but said he did not agree with her suggestion that the Government is not doing anything to help the poor.

In response, Ms Lim said she was not suggesting that the Government did not have schemes to help those with lesser means, and was only asking about efforts made to study the issue of social mobility.

Nominated MP Ganesh Rajaram, 51, had also spoken about inequality on Wednesday, recounting the class divisions he observed when he went from a "non-elite" secondary school to an "elite" junior college.

But he said Singapore was in a better position now to deal with inequality compared to the past, adding that people should think about what they can do rather than look to the Government for solutions.

"At the end of the day, bridging a class divide can only truly happen if Singaporeans work together to ensure that every single child from a low-income family is equipped with the perseverance, confidence and resilience to succeed," he said.