SINGAPORE: Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam has laid out key strategies aimed at closing the "gaps in opportunities" among the population.
Speaking at the Taman Jurong National Day Dinner on Friday, Mr Tharman painted a bleak outlook for the global economy, but said the situation is not that bad in Singapore.
He said anyone who wants a job can find one here and Singaporeans are still optimistic about the future.
A key focus of the government’s efforts is to give the best possible opportunities to children who come from disadvantaged families.
Mr Tharman said that while early upstream intervention is important, helping Singaporeans after they leave school is important as well.
The minister also said there was much more employers and society can do to help blue—collar workers here progress to close the income gap.
He noted how Singapore society still places too much emphasis on academic credentials.
He said, "We have to pay more respect to blue collar workers, give them pride in their jobs, pay them fairly and help them progress in their careers up to the highest level their skills can take them."
"It can be done. Even if you have not done well in school, we have to provide the ladders to allow every Singaporean to climb the ladder to success. Through their own efforts, as well as through the support of their employers, and through the support of the government," added Mr Tharman.
Another key strategy is home ownership.
Mr Tharman pointed to government subsidies that help Singaporeans buy their homes.
Home ownership, the minister said, creates an asset for the low income group as they get to enjoy the long term appreciation in housing prices.
"By the time you retire, you own a home. You’ve used your money to service the debt and you own the home," Mr Tharman said.
"They can decide to downgrade from three—room to studio apartment. They can decide to sell their house and to rent. But it provides a very valuable asset."
Mr Tharman said the government is also helping the elderly by ensuring healthcare remains affordable.
For elderly workers, the priority is for them to have the opportunity to upgrade, improve on productivity and get better pay
Chief among them are cleaners, whom Mr Tharman said deserve a fairer deal.
He said the government, as a buyer of cleaning services, will take the lead in this initiative.
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