Public service report card: Incomes of Singaporeans rise and inequality falls, but growth hit by Covid-19

For the first time in five years, 2019 shows Singapore's Gini coefficient dipping below 0.4. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Incomes in Singapore have continued to rise in the past five years while necessities like education remain affordable.

Singapore also continues to be business-friendly and internationally competitive.

These are among the key achievements of the public service up till 2019 in most cases, according to a new report released by the Ministry of Finance (MOF) on Thursday (Nov 26).

The Singapore Public Sector Outcomes Review (Spor), a stock-take of the sector's work that is unveiled every two years, rounds up key figures in such areas as the economy and social support.

But unlike past editions, this year's review has a special section in recognition of the whole-of-nation effort to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Titled "Emerging Stronger as One", it highlights how Singaporeans, businesses and the community have stepped forward to partner the Government to help those in need.

Here are four key takeaways from the report:

1. Lower income inequality, more work opportunities

For the first time in five years, 2019 shows Singapore's Gini coefficient - a measure of income inequality - dipping below 0.4.

A Gini coefficient above 0.4 usually signals a large income gap.

After taking into account taxes and transfers, it fell from 0.452 to 0.398 in 2019.

Similarly positive is the rise in employment incomes across the board, with those in the bottom 20th percentile rising faster than at the median, which is the mid-point in a range.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, referencing the report, noted in a Facebook post that "Singapore residents who are employed full-time have seen incomes rise 3.8 per cent per year over the past five years".

Another indicator of progress is the increased number of residents employed, including women and seniors, in the last five years .

More than half of them are professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), with the PMET share among employed residents growing from 54.3 per cent in 2015 to 58.3 per cent in 2019.

Singaporeans also have more opportunities to pick up new skills.

By the end of last year, 500,000 individuals and 14,000 enterprises had benefited from SkillsFuture initiatives.

The stork, however, continues to elude even more Singaporeans, causing the country's resident total fertility rate to decline from 1.24 in 2015 to 1.14 last year.

But efforts have been made to encourage families to have children.

For example, the number of preschool places has swelled by more than 30 per cent since 2016. They have become more affordable as well, with higher subsidies.

2. Competitive economy and workforce

Singapore took the top spot among the world's most competitive economies, according to the World Economic Forum in 2019 and International Institute for Management Development in 2020.

Even amid the pandemic, the Economic Development Board secured $13 billion of fixed asset investment commitments in the first four months of 2020. This shows the confidence of businesses in Singapore, the report noted.

The growing fintech sector continues to shine in the first half of this year. It attracted equity funding as well as mergers and acquisitions amounting to $650 million.

Businesses in Singapore also geared up for longer-term opportunities by venturing into the region, going digital and promoting innovation.

For example, direct investment by Singapore-based companies in Southeast Asia increased by 37 per cent in the last five years.

More are also going digital: 216,000 businesses have registered for PayNow Corporate, enabling them to send and receive e-payments instantly.

Shoring up Singapore's competitive edge is the country's highly-regarded workforce - the only one in Asia to enter a list of the top 10 most competitive places for talent in the world.

Workers here, reminded continually to pivot and boost their skills, can tap on schemes like the Adapt and Grow initiative that provides career guidance, training and job placements for those affected by economic restructuring.

3. Pro-business environment and access to digital services

The World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Index has consistently ranked Singapore among the top three economies to do business in.

This year, Singapore ranked second and did well in two other indicators - fourth in the world for starting a business and first in the world for enforcing contracts.

It takes just one and a half days to start a business in Singapore.

Businesses have also been able to innovate by using regulatory sandboxes and with faster approvals from the authorities.

One example is the Accelerated Initiative for Artificial Intelligence (AI), which speeds up regulatory approvals for AI-related inventions. Innovators can get an AI patent as swiftly as six months, compared to an average of two to four years.

Last year, 77 per cent of businesses were "very or extremely satisfied" with the quality of Government e-services - a jump of 8 percentage points from 2018, and nearly a 10 percentage point rise from five years ago.

Singaporeans' access to digital government services has improved, with the LifeSG app allowing them to access more than 40 services.

Improved and more secure digital connectivity is underway, including cybersecurity enhancements, 5G trials and the Networked Trade Platform- a one-stop trade and logistics platform.

4. Slowing growth and employment due to Covid-19

Despite Singapore's strong fundamentals, Covid-19 has put a dent in its economy.

Real GDP growth rate is expected to contract by between 6.5 and 6 per cent this year.

But there remain pockets of resilience such as biomedical manufacturing, and information and communications and media, said the report.

The labour market continues to face downward pressure, with the resident unemployment rate reaching 4.7 per cent in September.

Job seekers at an employment fair held at Bukit Panjang Community Centre in August. PHOTO: ST FILE

The SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package was introduced this year to expand job, traineeship and skills training opportunities. More than 117,500 were available as at August.

The report noted that in the face of Covid-19 and rising global tensions, it is important that citizens and businesses team up to co-create future policies.

Head of Civil Service Leo Yip highlighted the partnership between the Government and people during the pandemic, saying:

"It highlights Singaporeans' strong spirit of care and concern for one another...working together has enabled us to serve those in need and overcome this crisis as one.

"(The public service) will continue to partner with Singaporeans to build a better future Singapore society and economy, and to emerge stronger from this crisis."

The full report can be found at this website.

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