Public service report card: Improved education, eldercare and economy in 2021

The report also noted the new Primary School Leaving Examination scoring system, which was implemented in 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The Republic saw improvements in the lives of its citizens in 2021, with more children enrolled in pre-school, more eldercare spaces offered in nursing homes and daycare centres, and real median income growing following a decline in 2020.

But alongside these improvements, 2021 also saw an increase in cases of child and vulnerable adult abuse and calls to the Institute of Mental Health, as well as a decrease in the number of citizen births.

These developments, which reflected the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Singapore, have been recorded in the latest edition of the Singapore Public Sector Outcomes Review, the public sector’s report card, which was released on Tuesday by the Ministry of Finance.

Published every two years, the report takes stock of the public sector’s work in areas of national interest such as health and wellness, the environment, the economy, and social support.

In education, improvements were made across all life stages.

For example, as at March 2022, more than 60 per cent of children were enrolled in government-supported pre-schools, where fees are kept low through subsidies. The report noted that Singapore is on track to achieving its target of having enough places in such pre-schools for 80 per cent of children by about 2025.

The report also looked at the new Primary School Leaving Examination scoring system, which was implemented in 2021 to reduce the fine differentiation of examination results and encourage students to focus on their own learning instead of comparing themselves with others. Under the new system, more students who qualify for the Normal course can study at least one subject at a more demanding level in Secondary 1. About 85 per cent of eligible students have taken up this opportunity.

Economically, Singapore rebounded from the impact of Covid-19 in 2020, when the economy shrank by 4.1 per cent, the worst full-year recession since independence. In 2021, the economy expanded by 7.6 per cent. While unemployment rates also improved, they remained elevated, especially among residents aged 40 and above.

Retrenchments among residents fell to 6,430 in 2021 after reaching an 11-year high of 14,380 in 2020.

The report also said that, despite higher inflation dampening improvements in income growth, real median income grew in 2021 after a decline in 2020.

It also said that the Gini coefficient, an indicator of income inequality, has been falling in the past decade, reflecting a more equal society, owing in part to enhanced social policies and measures that support more individuals to be in employment. The Gini coefficient, before accounting for taxes and transfers, fell in 2021 to 0.444 from 0.452 the year before, as a result of stronger income recovery among lower-income groups, the report said.

Areas that need to be addressed, according to the report, are the abuse of children and vulnerable adults, overall mental health, and the management of physical health, especially for those with chronic diseases.

In 2021, there were about 2,140 new cases where child protection was needed, and 200 involving the abuse of vulnerable adults, up from about 1,300 and 170, respectively, in 2020. The report said these were driven by increased stress experienced by families amid the pandemic, as well as greater public awareness of what constitutes abuse, and reduced stigma in reporting such abuse.

The National Anti-Violence Helpline was set up in 2020 and expanded in May 2022 to include calls about sexual violence and sexual harassment.

In the area of mental health, some people had symptoms of depression or anxiety amid the pandemic, while others struggled with stresses such as the threat of infection, changes in daily routines, and social isolation, said the report.

The Institute of Mental Health’s helpline received 64,000 calls in financial year 2021, a 39 per cent increase from the year before.

Community outreach teams were set up to identify mental health needs earlier, and more than 300 general practitioners were trained to diagnose and support people with mental health conditions.

In terms of physical health, the report noted that the prevalence of high blood pressure and high cholesterol has been increasing since 2010, and the prevalence of obesity has gone back up to its 2010 level after seeing a dip in 2017.

While the proportion of Singaporeans engaging in leisure exercise increased from 29.4 per cent in 2017 to 33.4 per cent in 2020, the proportion of those doing at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity weekly was on the decline, falling from 80.9 per cent in 2017 to 76.4 per cent in 2020.

Active lifestyle programmes are being rolled out, including on digital platforms and in the heartland, to engage Singaporeans. While gradually shifting to a preventive healthcare model, the healthcare system has also been beefed up.

The report noted that the number of acute hospital beds had increased by 1.4 per cent from 2020 to 2021, while the number of community hospital beds increased by 0.5 per cent. This was enough to cater for the more than 560,000 acute hospital and 21,000 community hospital admissions in 2021.

In terms of eldercare, home care capacity expanded to about 12,000 places in 2021, while daycare places increased to 8,300. There are also about 17,000 nursing home beds.

Another challenge highlighted by the report was Singapore’s total fertility rate.

While it saw a slight uptick in 2021 to 1.12 after a historic low of 1.1 in 2020, it still remains low, with citizen births on the decline, and is lower than pre-Covid-19 levels.

The report noted that the declining resident total fertility rate is largely due to the rising proportion of singles marrying later and married couples having fewer children. “Such trends have been observed in other developed societies and may have intensified amidst the pandemic,” it said.

The report also said more peak-hour commuting journeys are being completed through more carbon-friendly options such as walking, cycling and public transport. More solar panels have also been installed on Housing Board blocks.

There was a decline in physical crimes, in particular housebreaking and theft, but a rise in overall crime, driven by more scams.

The 2022 report also included a special chapter on strengthening Singapore’s supply chain resilience in response to the disruptions of the past few years. It noted the Republic’s efforts in stockpiling food and other essential items, while anchoring production and research capabilities domestically, and building up financial resources.

At the same time, it called for the population to remain resilient. “As a nation, our resilience is reflected in how we collectively adapt to overcome new challenges, forge cohesiveness, help others in times of need, and emerge stronger from crisis,” it said.

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