Special focus on disadvantaged in Budget, says Indranee Rajah

Second Minister for Finance and Education Indranee Rajah and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Manpower Low Yen Ling helping children from Big Heart Student Care centre in Lianhua Primary School put up notes of appreciation on a "tree"
Second Minister for Finance and Education Indranee Rajah and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Manpower Low Yen Ling helping children from Big Heart Student Care centre in Lianhua Primary School put up notes of appreciation on a "tree" yesterday. The centre is one of 24 operated by the four self-help groups.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

The upcoming Budget will cover social programmes that focus on the elderly, healthcare and education as well as pay special attention to helping the disadvantaged and underprivileged, Second Minister for Finance and Education Indranee Rajah said yesterday.

Speaking to the media during a visit to Big Heart Student Care centre in Lianhua Primary School, Ms Indranee, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, said there is a small group of people unable to make the most of the opportunities given to them because they face issues such as family difficulties.

"We are putting special focus on how we can help those who are underprivileged, from a disadvantaged background, and the Uplift committee will be a part of that," she said, referring to the Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who will present this year's Budget statement on Feb 18, is also expected to focus on boosting security and defence.

Ms Indranee declined to elaborate on whether social spending this year would be higher than that last year, but she noted that it has more than doubled in the past decade, spurred in part by the growing needs in the education and healthcare sectors - the first because of the need for continued education, and the other due to an ageing population.

As the head of the eight-member Uplift, Ms Indranee also said the visit to the student care centre has helped her confirm some of the ideas the committee has had.

The Big Heart Student Care centre at Lianhua Primary School is one of 24 centres operated by the four self-help groups - the Chinese Development Assistance Council, Mendaki, Singapore Indian Development Association and Eurasian Association. Six more centres are expected to be set up by the four self-help groups by next year.

 
 
 
 
 

Nearly half, or 45 per cent, of the 3,021 students enrolled in these school-based student care centres are from lower-income families and pay subsidised fees under the Ministry of Social and Family Development's Student Care Fee Assistance scheme.

Recounting her conversations with students, Ms Indranee said that one told her that she preferred studying at the centre than at home as it was more conducive, while another shared that he was taken to school every day by neighbours instead of his parents.

"You can see that some of the ideas we have been looking at, like having a structured environment... or getting volunteers to assist those who are not able to take the kids to school, it is actually being played out in real life here," said Ms Indranee.

She added that the Uplift committee would be making more detailed recommendations when Parliament meets to debate the details of the Budget.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 31, 2019, with the headline 'Special focus on disadvantaged in Budget, says Indranee'. Print Edition | Subscribe