SINGAPORE - To tackle inequality, the Singapore's fourth-generation leadership will continue to strengthen support for those who have less, and strive to ensure all have opportunities to improve their lives.
This twofold approach was outlined by Second Minister for Education and Finance Indranee Rajah on Thursday (July 18), as she set out the 4G team's vision for addressing inequality and ensuring social mobility.
These are critical concerns, she said in a speech at the National University of Singapore's Social Service Research Centre Conference on a subject that has been in the spotlight in recent years.
"As Singaporeans, we must care for one another and look out for one another. Every Singaporean matters and we want all to do well," she said.
"Singapore must always be a society of opportunities for all, throughout life, where everyone can progress irrespective of starting point; where all Singaporeans will have equal chance to seek better lives - to meet their aspirations and find happiness - regardless of background."
Tackling inequality is also a matter of national interest, she said, as society will fracture if widening income inequalities result in a rigid and stratified social system.
"What is at stake therefore is the very nature of our society. This is not just the task of the Government. It is the task of everyone because it affects all of us."
In March, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said in Parliament that the problem of inequality has many causes and needs to be tackled on multiple fronts.
On Thursday, Ms Indranee said inequality and social mobility have been concerns since Singapore's independence in 1965.
Tackling them is a "fundamental tenet of achieving a fair and just society", she added.
Ms Indranee said Singapore has made progress in areas such as life expectancy, education and home ownership, but added that while economic progress has created prosperity for many, it has also resulted in resources and benefits accruing to those at the top.
Advancements in technology also threaten to deepen the divide between higher-skilled and lower-skilled workers, and lower-skilled workers risk being shut off from new opportunities, she said.
These trends and tendencies pose new challenges that did not exist in earlier decades, she noted.
Left unchecked, they will cause less advantaged Singaporeans to be left behind, and feel that the opportunities available can only be accessed by a privileged few, she added.
But the 4G team's approach is not to cap the top, but to uplift the bottom by improving access to opportunities among the less advantaged, Ms Indranee said.
"In tandem with this, there must be multiple pathways for achievement, success and careers to ensure continuing social mobility," she added.
She detailed various government assistance schemes and said the 4G leaders will share more on how it will continue to strengthen support for the disadvantaged in the coming months.
The minister also gave an update on the work of a task force she is chairing to help underperforming students from disadvantaged families.
The Education Ministry is looking to expand partnerships between citizen volunteers and schools, she added.
"When the community is involved, it works two ways: it strengthens the ecosystem of care and support for disadvantaged students and at the same time, offers people an avenue to give back," she said.