SINGAPORE - Singapore's current and future challenge is to ensure that those on the lower rungs continue to be able to progress upwards along with the rest of society, said Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli on Wednesday (Jan 27).
He said that Singapore is not immune to the tendencies of society to gravitate towards inequality, and hence, the country must continue to tackle it even though it is difficult to do so.
The consequences of not doing so could be dire, he said, noting that in some societies, inequality, when left unchecked, has resulted in fractures and loss of cohesion, where a permanent underclass is formed as those who do well do not give back.
Mr Masagos was speaking at the Ministry of Social and Family Development Volunteer and Partner Awards ceremony held virtually over video-conferencing platform Zoom.
His remarks come ahead of the annual Budget, to be unveiled on Feb 16. They also come amid a time when Covid-19 support measures from last year are tapering off even as more may be requiring government aid.
"We committed $200 billion in just a year, of which $50 billion came from our reserves that we had saved for during those decades," said Mr Masagos.
"Even as we had the reserves to use for this rainy day, we move forward knowing that we owe the next generation a rebuilding of the reserves that we had used, for another rainy day. We are faced with questions about how we can continue maintaining our social spending, in the face of a sick and weakened global economy," he added.
Mr Masagos noted that the efforts put in by volunteers and partners have shown how caring Singaporeans are amid a crisis.
He said: "While this pandemic has deepened our sense of solidarity, like the early days of independence, our discipline to hold on to age-old principles is key to seeing us through this crisis and beyond.
"More than ever before, we need to renew our social compact to create an uplifting society - one that continues to provide opportunities for all Singaporeans."
Today's social compact is one where the Government creates the conditions for economic growth and an enabling environment for Singaporeans to flourish, while strong families help to create resilient individuals and provide care and support for one another, and a caring society and community actively supports those with less, said Mr Masagos.
While this approach has largely served Singapore well in the first 50 years of its independence, the country will face a very different social landscape over the next 50 years, with new challenges that were different from what the forefathers faced, he said.
One challenge is inequality - "A wicked problem that many societies, over the centuries, have tried to eliminate but to no avail," said Mr Masagos.
He added: "In Singapore, we are not immune to such risks, and the tendencies of society to gravitate towards inequality.
"While our social and economic strategies have uplifted broad segments of our population in the past, our current and future challenge would be to ensure that even those at the bottom continue to progress upwards alongside the rest of the society on a moving escalator.
"We must tackle inequality on a lasting basis by keeping opportunities alive for everyone, regardless of how difficult it might be to do so."
This can be done through continually renewing the spirit of Singapore's social compact.
That means strengthening and nurturing strong families, enabling individuals to build resilience from a young age by giving them the best start in life and enabling citizens to be resilient to a disruptive economy through continuous skills training, as well as building a caring society with a strong sense of mutual help and giving back, among other things.
He called on Singaporeans who have done well to give back for the betterment of society, by investing their time, talent and resources into uplifting those who are disadvantaged or facing challenges in life.
"When the successful give back, only then can we pass the ethical muster of a good and moral society," he said.