Budget Statement 2018

Improving Our Quality of Life, Bridging Inequality, Spending Prudently

Every generation of Singaporeans has undergone their fair share of struggles. From a mere place on the map, our forefathers helped to turn this place into a nation.

With growth and development, Singapore is now home to a plethora of communities from across the globe – a cosmopolitan city and a melting pot of cultures, races, languages.

But amid the development, we do have cracks emerging. A recent survey by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) on Social Capital in Singapore revealed that there is a growing class divide in Singapore, which is not healthy for our city state.

As such, it is vital that the government develops an economic strategy to not just create wealth, but to ensure that the distribution of such wealth is done equitably, so that the most vulnerable in society will not get left behind. In addition, we must be cognizant of Singapore’s working class who are also struggling to make ends meet, who live from hand to mouth every month, and don’t have the means to save for their future because of the high cost of living in Singapore.

The words of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will be in the forefront of Singaporean’s minds as the 2018 budget announcement approaches. Raising taxes “is not a matter of whether, but when,” he said last November.

On 19 February, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will give the Singapore 2018 Budget Statement. Households and businesses across Singapore are anxious to hear what is in store. Where will the money go in 2018?

What is also clear in our conversations which many Singaporeans and members of the public across various age groups, and across races is that there is a consistent demand for the improvement of quality of life in Singapore. Quality of life is subjective and demands are different across countries.

As such, it is important for us to have a fair gauge of what increasing quality of life means to as many Singaporeans as possible, across all age groups, and races, regardless of their wealth backgrounds.

It is also important for the Government to practice prudence in spending, and not raise the burden of expenditure through added taxes on citizens, especially the middle income, who will be most affected by any further changes to the taxation structure.

In the upcoming Budget announcement to be delivered by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, the Singapore Peoples’ Party hopes to have the following addressed.

Wealth Inequality
Public policy has a major role to play in the reduction of inequality in Singapore.

The greater the inequality in wealth, the greater the risk of social cracks in Singapore. We must find ways to improve opportunities and help to improve social mobility for people.

On this count, we hope that the middle income and the sandwiched class will receive a lot more support as follows:

• Income Tax rebates for middle income workers whose salaries have not increased to offset inflation and rising cost of living
• No further increases in Goods and Services Taxes

Housing
The 99-year lease of a HDB flat and its relative zero value at the end of the lease have made many Singaporeans finally wake up to the idea that what they thought was their nest eggs actually can account for nothing when the 99-year leases are up.

If we live in a globalized world, then we must accept that there will be young married Singaporeans who view the world as their playground and instead of getting tied down with a home which costs an exorbitant amount of investment and loans which will take the rest of their lives to pay off, people should be given the choice of renting from the HDB instead of buying.

The SPP would like to propose the following:

• That the Government starts looking at allowing young married couples who are not so keen or ready to buy their own homes to be able to rent a flat from the HDB before they make their decision to buy a home from the HDB.
• The Government should also allow young single Singaporeans to purchase their homes from the HDB when they are 21 and not have to wait till they are 35.

Education
Many students whom we have spoken to have told us that they have found that the education system has not really prepared them for the real world.

Graduates from our universities are also telling us that they are finding it tougher to get roles after they graduate. Granted that there are possibilities where expectations need to be managed as well, we also feel strongly that graduates from the ITE colleges and Polytechnics also need support to help them get placements in jobs and roles post-graduation.

The SPP would like to seek that the following be considered:

• More resources be allocated to all our local Universities to help our graduating students seek roles or internships at companies soon after their graduate
• More support be allocated to the ITE colleges and Polytechnics so that these institutions can build partnerships with companies which will provide training and internships
• We would also like to have an update on Global Innovation Alliance announced at Budget 2017. How impactful has it been for our students? How many students have been placed overseas as a result of the programme?

Healthcare
It is inevitable that more will need to be spent on healthcare, given that Singapore is becoming a fast ageing society.

With waiting times at public hospitals being incredibly long, we hope that more can be allocated towards healthcare needs. It is certainly not healthy for people to have to wait months on end just to have an appointment with a specialist.

We would also like to see more resources being allocated towards mental health and well-being.

A city state with a high number of suicides among the young and the elderly is not one which is desirable. In 2016, there were 429 suicides, which was an increase of 20 from 2015. In that year, statistics revealed that suicides among young adults aged 20-29 remained a significant concern. The stressors which have been cited by youth include the stress of studies or work, unemployment, financial worries and even feelings of loneliness. There was also an increase in the suicide rate among the elderly in the 2016 figures.

We hope that more resources can be allocated towards mental health so that precious lives can be saved, and helping to improve the quality of living is one way to start helping people lead meaningful lives. As such, we hope to have the following:

• Greater support for agencies or VWOs whose primary roles are geared towards outreach for mental health well-being
• Greater allocation of support for volunteer or social workers in these areas
• More social workers to be allocated in schools across Singapore

In addition, it is important that the Government considers expanding the coverage of Medishield Life so that more people will be able to get the healthcare support.

Pre-Seniors
One of the most vulnerable groups in Singapore appear to be the pre-seniors.

With disruption and displacement appearing to be a norm rather than an exception, there are many who are in their late 40s and early 50s who are being retrenched or made redundant because of changes to industries.

We need to find ways to help many of these pre-seniors who have been displaced get the appropriate training so that they are able to contribute meaningfully towards Singapore so they too will feel like Singapore is home to them.

Helping them would also mean helping to counsel them and to provide them with advice to take on second or third careers, with the appropriate training.

The SPP hopes that the Government will consider the following:

• An insurance of social safety net, or the creation of a coalition of partners from the government and commercial sector which will help pre-seniors who are displaced to get retrained, and ready for the workforce
• Counselling sessions and services to help such pre-seniors who are displaced to get retrained

Sports and Community Integration
Singapore is a cosmopolitan city which is a melting pot of cultures. A recent Institute of Policy Studies showed that people in high income households did not mix much with people from low income households.

Sports is one way to bring people together, from all walks of life, and from across different wealth backgrounds. Unfortunately, Singapore’s sports culture has regressed over the years.

Empty stadiums, poor ticket sales at sports events like the International Champions Cup, the Women’s Tennis Association Finals in Singapore and at S-League football matches only confirm that that we need to do a lot more to re-create a sports culture, to bring people together.

The SPP recognizes the role that sports plays in Singapore and would like to propose the following:

• To have funds raised from the Singapore Sports Hub project revenue sharing mechanism to be re-distributed directly back towards sports programming
• To raise more money for sports, the Government should provide more opportunities for commercial companies to be involved in sports. There are many public assets like neighbourhood stadiums which can be used to create value and raise funds for sports. These funds raised can be re-distributed directly back towards sports programming
• More financial support programmes for our national athletes from all tiers, especially for those who wish to take time off from work to prepare for major Games

Conclusion
With rising costs of living, greater probability of disruption and possible loss of jobs, it is imperative that the Government recognizes the issues and pain points faced by Singaporeans.

We do hope that the Government takes into consideration the ideas and suggestions put forth by the Singapore People’s Party, and to invest in Singaporeans.

Singapore People’s Party