Spending on seniors' services a 'big item' in Budget 2018

Senior Minister of State for Finance Indranee Rajah joining seniors in an activity at the Awwa Dementia Day Care Centre yesterday.
Senior Minister of State for Finance Indranee Rajah joining seniors in an activity at the Awwa Dementia Day Care Centre yesterday.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

Resources needn't come just from Govt, says Indranee; VWOs, charities, companies and individuals can chip in

Spending on services for seniors will be a "big item'' in the upcoming Budget, Senior Minister of State for Finance Indranee Rajah said yesterday when she underlined the growing challenge of addressing the needs of Singapore's rapidly ageing population.

She did not elaborate on the extent of the increase, but noted that "in the years ahead, healthcare is going to be an even bigger part of our Budget expenditure".

Her comment, made at a seniors' event, comes four days after Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat indicated at a conference on ageing to expect measures that will better support seniors in the national Budget.

The impending boost will build on earlier initiatives like the Pioneer Generation Package, which subsidises healthcare costs for seniors born in 1949 and earlier.

But resources for seniors' programmes need not just come from the Government, Ms Indranee said, adding that voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs), charities, companies and individuals can provide them too.

Singapore has about 500,000 people aged 65 and older. This is expected to almost double to around 900,000 by 2030.

Healthcare needs, apart from loneliness and finance, are the leading concerns of most of them.

As the rise in healthcare expenditure is inevitable, Ms Indranee, who is also Senior Minister of State for Law, said "we have to see how we can fund it in a sustainable way".

"We do have to look at the question of raising taxes," she said, but was quick to add that the Government is not relying on just increasing taxes to cover the higher expenditure."One of the most important thing is the economy," she said, stressing that the Government will pay "a lot more attention" to finding ways to increase growth.

With her comments, Ms Indranee joins several government leaders who have hinted, since a year ago, of an impending tax hike to provide more resources for social spending.

Mr Heng said in Budget 2017 that healthcare and infrastructure spending will rise rapidly, and a time will come when new taxes or higher tax rates will have to be introduced.

In Budget 2017, $10 billion was allocated for healthcare expenditure, and the amount is expected to go up to at least $13 billion by 2020.

Last November, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said "raising taxes is not a matter of whether, but a matter of when".

Yesterday, Ms Indranee again assured Singaporeans that individuals will be given enough time to plan their finances, businesses will get time to study the impact on them and the needy will get relief.

"Much depends on what the nature of the tax hike is," she noted.

Her comments on the Budget were made after she toured the Awwa Health and Senior Care centre, a cluster of facilities in Ang Mo Kio that provide services to seniors.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2018, with the headline 'Spending on seniors' services a 'big item' in Budget 2018'. Print Edition | Subscribe