The PAP pride itself to be an efficient, pragmatic and effective govt. None of this is true if we look at the way the PAP helps the needy in Singapore. When it comes to helping the poor, the PAP is ideological, inefficient and unnecessarily stingy. Making it difficult for people who really need help to find it and get it has long term negative consequences harmful to our society and worsens many problems that the PAP created with its policies. If you have not been reading this blog, you may think that what I've written above is too harsh but the article below by The Economist is a good summary of what I've discussed in many of my blog postings. PAP insistence that it shouldn't give help because the poor people are responsible for the own poverty is untrue. Making the process of seeking help "tiring and humiliating" is cruel and especially so if the people seeking help have fallen as a result of govt policies over the years.
Sometime in the 80s, when we were heading for a Swiss standard of living, it could be argued that comprehensive welfare and safety nets were unnecessary. Singaporeans working full time jobs were able to save and start a family, income inequality was a lot lower and job stability was relatively high. Over the years, workers' benefits have been slashed, income gap has ballooned and employers adoped a "hire-and-fire" attitude towards workers. The Singapore pursued pro-business policies such as allowing a large influx of foreign workers, raising GST to cut corporate taxes, no minimum wages for workers and an export oriented economic model that is highly vulnerable to volatilities of overseas demand. At the same time, the cost of living escalated causing the real wages of a large segment of the population to fall. If you find it tough owning a flat working as a professional, imagine what it is like for other workers in Singapore. Singapore has the highest income gap of all developed countries, and one of the highest cost of living. So is it any wonder if there are many have fallen through and need state help? These people are poor through no fault of their own - unless you want to blame them for being born less intelligent or less lucky and as one YPAP member put it, they should blame themselves for coming out of the wrong womb i.e. not having rich parents. The PAP mantra to solve all this is "retraining" and more retraining along with work harder, work faster - they have been saying this for the past few decades and they will keep insisting that this is the solution because it helps to preserve the status quo requiring no major policy change on their part. The PAP insists being poor is all your own fault. Because of the high cost of living, many Singaporeans even those who are not needy are unable to save so they are one major illness away from poverty or one job loss away from poverty. Many Singaporeans walk the economic tight rope as our GLCs report record profits which have been growing as a % of GDP - so what about keeping the cost of living down? What about truly affordable housing instead of the most expensive public housing in the world?
Today is Chinese New Year and I would like to wish all of you a "Happy Chinese New Year". I urge all of you to look beyond yourself and think of the hundreds of thousands of Singaporeans who will find this new year to be another year of struggle and uncertainty. While you celebrate, think of those who are unable to do so...hopefully the new year brings new thinking...new thinking that will lead to much needed change.
Welfare in Singapore The stingy nanny [Link]
The city-state stays strict with the needy
Feb 13th 2010 SINGAPORE
From The Economist online FOND of having the last word, Singapore's government can nevertheless be flexible. Who would have thought it would be building casinos? But one policy that shows no sign of reversing is Singapore’s antipathy towards public welfare. The state’s attitude can be simply put: being poor here is your own fault. Citizens are obliged to save for the future, rely on their families and not expect any handouts from the government unless they hit rock bottom. The emphasis on family extends into old age: retired parents can sue children who fail to support them. In government circles “welfare” remains a dirty word, cousin to sloth and waste. Singapore may be a nanny state, but it is by no means an indulgent nanny.
The aftershock of a deep recession, which pushed unemployment among citizens up to 4.1% in September—high for Singapore—has not altered the popular belief that the dole is bad for society. The casinos, which open on February 14th, have already helped reduce unemployment, which by December had fallen back to 3%, seasonally adjusted.
The government does run a handful of schemes directed at some of the needy, from low-income students to the unassisted elderly. But these benefits are rigorously means-tested and granted only sparingly. The most destitute citizens’ families may apply for public assistance; only 3,000 currently qualify. Laid-off workers receive no automatic benefits. Instead they are sorted into “workfare” and training schemes.
Applicants complain that the process of seeking help is made tiresome and humiliating. Indeed that could be the point, supposing it deters free-riders. Officials take a dim view of European-style welfare systems, which are said to beget laziness. The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS), which administers the various schemes, says theirs are designed as a “springboard” to self-reliance. Getting people back to work takes priority over relieving any temporary drop in income. In a fiscal stimulus unveiled a year ago in response to the financial crisis, S$5.1 billion ($3.6 billion) was allocated for employment measures, including grants to companies to retain staff. Those who remain out of work can join a government training scheme; by December, 169,000 unemployed workers had done so.
Many Singaporeans are wedded to their jobs and look askance at idleness of any kind. The government is leery of generous handouts, fearing they might undercut the work ethic while burdening taxpayers. But the thinness of the safety net also reflects a widespread article of faith, recited and reinforced over the years. Even among the social workers who work in hard-hit communities there is surprisingly little frustration at the meagreness of the handouts on offer or at the lengthy application process. One explains that Singapore needs to weed out undeserving claimants and shakes his head at the potential cost of a comprehensive welfare service. Yet in his next breath he mentions a number of local families who have been forced to sleep rough since mortgage lenders foreclosed on their flats.
Nobody doubts that wealthy Singapore could be more generous. In 2008 the World Bank rated it the third richest country in the world, in terms of GDP per head at purchasing-power parity. And the idea that its Big-Brotherly government might be outfoxed by conniving welfare queens seems odd. When a visiting news crew filmed an elderly woman scavenging in Chinatown and bemoaning her homelessness, the government promptly identified her as a miserly flat-owner who did not need to beg. Indeed, acute poverty is hard to spot in Singapore. Public housing is in good shape; no slums are allowed to fester. Soup kitchens do exist, but foreign labourers are often first in line.
But Singapore still faces the challenge of rising inequality in a society that is also rapidly ageing. By 2030, says MCYS, one in five Singaporeans will be over 65 (UBS, whose largest shareholder is Singapore’s sovereign-wealth fund, has estimated the date at 2020). Incomes have stagnated or even fallen at the bottom of the spectrum, as the rich pull further ahead of the middle classes. Long-term unemployment among middle-aged professionals, who do not qualify for workfare, is on the rise, says Leong Sze Hian, a financial expert and blogger.
Native resentment is also growing against the influx of migrant workers: 35% of the workforce of 3m is now foreign. It is often cheaper for companies to import semi-skilled and unskilled workers—there were 680,000 at last count—than to hire locals, who require pension contributions. Official reassurances that migrants create growth do not convince those competing for scarce jobs. Lee Kuan Yew,
Singapore’s founding father and still its "minister mentor" has maintained that ambitious migrants help to keep citizens on their toes. In an interview given to National Geographic last July he said that if native Singaporeans lag behind “hungry” foreigners because “the spurs are not stuck on [their] hinds”, that is not the state’s problem to solve.
This nascent backlash may eventually soften the anti-welfare tone set by Mr Lee. The Economic Society of Singapore (ESS)—not exactly a radical cell—recently proposed to a government committee that it should build a more robust safety net, starting with unemployment insurance. This would promote social stability and help muster public support for Singapore’s open-door migration policies, it argues. Properly designed, such measures would not create disincentives to work and thrift. “While self-reliance is a good principle in general, it may be neither efficient nor just if taken to extremes,” noted the ESS.