Committee of Supply debate

Social benefits: Pleas over criteria

Mr Edwin Tong (Marine Parade GRC) yesterday joined a chorus of pleas from MPs in the past week, for the Government to rethink using the annual value of a person's home as the main criterion in giving out social benefits.

Giving help based on property ownership could exclude those living in private homes but who had little income or savings, like retirees. But because of their home's annual value, they fail to qualify for the social schemes they might need, he argued.

"It is really no answer to tell these people they should sell their home, their property, relocate and live off the remaining proceeds," said Mr Tong during the debate on the Finance Ministry's budget. "We would only be dislocating many of them from their home, the environment they have grown comfortable in." He suggested the Government should also look at other eligibility criteria based on needs, like unemployment due to disability.

Several MPs, including Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) and Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC), had also spoken about this group of asset-rich, cash-poor Singaporeans last week.

But Senior Minister of State for Finance Sim Ann was not swayed, saying the annual value of a person's home is still the best way to assess whether he qualifies for help from social schemes.

"While it is not a perfect measure for wealth, it remains a best available proxy," she said.

She also noted that any criteria for means-testing had to be clear, reasonable and practical to implement. Another plus in using annual home value is that the Government knows the value. This means those who qualify automatically receive benefits, without having to apply for them.

But in all this, private property dwellers are not left out, said Ms Sim, as social support schemes are only a small part of the total amount of benefits Singaporeans get. She said the Government would continue to review its means-testing criteria so that those most in need of help would get it.

She added: "Appeals by those who are in need and in exceptional circumstances will be carefully considered on a case-by-case basis."

Charissa Yong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2016, with the headline 'Social benefits: Pleas over criteria'. Print Edition | Subscribe