Correspondent's take

When personal and social responsibility can be mutually reinforcing

There was much chatter on the issue of inequality last year, as fears of a widening income divide and declining social mobility dominated national conversations.

Singapore's social policy today is targeted at reducing inequality and fostering conditions that allow for greater inclusion and well-being.

This year's Budget shows that the Government has chosen to act both upstream - by trying to shape and encourage certain behaviours - and downstream - in dealing with the fallout by cushioning the impact on those who have been left behind.

A significant upstream intervention is enhancing Workfare to better support lower-wage workers.

The Workfare scheme is a key pillar in our social security system and seeks to supplement income and mitigate inequality in the working years. Almost 440,000 Singaporeans will benefit from the top-ups to their wages.

Yet, the Government recognises that the impact of inequality can stretch up to the retirement years and affect one's financial security in those latter years.

So, it is also putting in place further support downstream to pad upwelfare handouts to the elderly who cannot work and have little family support. Those on the ComCare long-term assistance scheme will get higher monthly cash assistance.

 
 
 

What is refreshing is seeing that unpaid caregiving work has not been forgotten, and having the contributions of women recognised through a top-up of up to $1,000 for older Singaporeans with less than $60,000 of retirement savings in their Central Provident Fund accounts.

Most recipients are women who have left the workforce early to be mothers, caregivers or housewives. While a modest gesture, it sends the right signal.

Addressing economic issues both upstream and downstream aside, what would determine Singapore's success in shifting to a more inclusive society is in how it builds up a culture of people willing to support others, while not undermining personal responsibility.

So, it is reassuring to see the Government trying to encourage a spirit of volunteerism in the community by walking the talk itself first.

Under a new Public Service Cares initiative, all public officers are being nudged to volunteer on a more regular basis.

 
 
 

This is an enlightened move, as it will not only provide more hands on deck to meet the needs of the vulnerable, but also help public officers to be more empathetic and aware of the needs on the ground. This may, in turn, inform the way they craft or deliver policies.

These Budget measures to alleviate inequality and shore up a culture of giving and service show that the interplay of personal and social responsibility can be mutually reinforcing and need not be a zero-sum game.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 19, 2019, with the headline 'When personal and social responsibility can be mutually reinforcing'. Print Edition | Subscribe