SINGAPORE: Acting Minister for Social and Family Development, Chan Chun Sing, said the government has made a slight shift this year in its Budget to extend help to the middle—income group.
He said in the past, the government tended to focus a lot of attention on the bottom 20 percentile.
"The Wage Credit Scheme is a good example. We literally took the whole surplus from the previous year and passed it on to the workers," said Mr Chan.
He added: "And when we set the qualifying criteria at S$4,000 per worker, what it means is that actually it has gone past the median workers’ salary, which means that more than 50 per cent of our workers will benefit from this scheme.
"So within the means available, we will try as much as we can to take care of not just the most needy members of our society, but also those that we generally term as middle—class or some of them termed as sandwiched class.
"But the most important thing is that we can only do this if the pie continues to grow, and we have a bountiful harvest to share among Singaporeans."
Mr Chan also said he hopes those who are better off can do their part to help the rest, as that is the only way to build a more inclusive society.
He said: "We hope that Singaporeans will also agree with us that those who need help most, they should be given more help. For those who are a bit better off, where they can contribute to the rest of society, then they will also do their part to help the rest of the society because that’s the only way that we can actually build a more inclusive society."
Some observers have said while the Budget is characteristic of "Robin Hood", a hero in English folklore known for robbing the rich and giving to the poor, they felt that more could be redistributed to the low—income group even as the government taxes the rich more heavily.
"In giving out to the poor, we must also accept that different groups of people have different needs. And what we most urgently need to do is to identify the specific needs of the groups of people," the minister said.
Mr Chan stressed: "Some of them may need more financial help, some of them may need less financial help but may need more emotional support or social service support, and this is where we have to, perhaps, do a triage in how we allocate our resources accordingly.
"Only (by doing) so, can we make most effective use of the finite resources that we have. On the other hand, if we give equal amount to everyone that needs help, that may also not be the best way to provide the help that they most need."
Mr Chan said the problem of income inequality in Singapore needs to be tackled with both short— and long—term measures.
He said: "In the short—term measures, you can do some transfers, you can give some subsidies to help the lower— to middle—income families to tide over the challenges that they are facing every day.
"But in the longer—term measures, we really have to invest much more in the education, the training of the children and also the adults so that they can, on their own, earn a higher salary to overcome the challenges of the future."
Mr Chan was speaking to reporters after the recording of a Chinese Budget Forum organised by MediaCorp.
Joining Mr Chan on the panel were representatives from social services, business associations and grassroots organisations.
They include Mr Ang Hin Kee, MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC; Mr Thomas Chua, vice president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry; Mr Leng Chin Fei, director of Fei Yue Community Services and Family Service Centre; and Mr Lim Lee Meng, a senior partner of a public accounting firm and a grassroots leader.
They were joined by 20 guests from diverse backgrounds —— such as preschool education and SMEs —— who took part in the discussion and polls related to the Budget announcements.
The Chinese Budget Forum will be telecast on MediaCorp’s Channel 8 on 28 February at 10.30pm.
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