SINGAPORE: While MPs have lauded this year’s Budget for its greater wealth re—distribution, the spotlight was also on another key thrust — that of inclusive growth.
Measures were also put in place to promote social mobility from the ground up, by providing quality pre—schools that is affordable and accessible.
Mr Christopher De Souza, MP for Holland—Bukit Timah GRC, said: "How we work towards building up such a culture could either involve tapping on the synergy generated by private—public initiatives — such as that by the welfare organisation Care Corner to give disadvantaged children access to high—quality pre—school education — or by subsidies or by going the broad way and nationalising pre—school education altogether.
"The main objective of course is to level the playing field. One way of looking at this recommendation that pre—school education be nationalised would simply be to see it as an extension of the educative years in our schools."
The issue of income inequality were fleshed out in many speeches tackling the point about the rising cost of living.
Several MPs said there was a need to help Singaporeans with healthcare costs, in particular for the older generation.
They gave the thumbs up for measures which help not only the low—income but those who are in the sandwich class as well.
Many called for the government to do more to help Singaporeans achieve their aspirations.
Mr Lim Biow Chuan, MP for Mountbatten GRC, said: "I received frequent feedback from residents expressing their fear that no matter how hard they work, their income would not be able to catch up with the escalating costs of living. Chief among their concerns would be the costs of medical care, costs of housing, costs of food and even the costs of cars. At the end of the day, many Singaporeans ask, "Has my life become better than it was five or ten years ago? Is this a better Singapore?""
Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar, MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, said: "A resident I met recently on one of my block visits... lamented that he hopes to be able to utilise his Medisave funds for his medical health checks. He shared that although he was asked by his doctor to go for further checks at the hospital, he says that he has been postponing it as he was certain one check would lead to another and the final bill would be quite substantial for him for out of pocket cash payment.
"As a retiree, he said that he did not want to burden his children by asking them for money for his medical checks. But he added that he has several thousand dollars in his Medisave account — if only he could use it for his medical expenses."
Ms Mary Liew, Nominated MP, said: "I foresee Singaporeans trying their whole lives to have adequate retirement savings by perhaps taking on, a second job to put aside more money for their retirement to supplement their CPF savings for a better retirement income. If the high cost of living persist and are not addressed today, it will escalate into a bigger problem that is difficult to reverse in another 20 or 30 years, especially if inflation gets the better of any wage increases."
Mr Png Eng Huat, MP for Hougang, said: "Cost of living affects everyone, low—income families will be hardest hit especially, by any price movement, no matter how small, because there’s no margin for error when budgeting for living expenses.
"A trip to the doctor, a rise in rental or increase in food prices or even a day of medical leave could spell trouble for these families. And looking at the latest report on wages, we have about 186,000 people earning 800 dollars and below. I urge the government to look into improving their lives as we restructure our economy."
Ms Sylvia Lim, MP for Aljunied GRC, also called for an even more progressive tax system. This includes further taxing those who earn more than $320,000 a year.
Mr David Ong, MP for Jurong GRC, said: "While I agree taxes should get more progressive, we should do it carefully and avoid a loss of competitiveness. Many companies decide on where to locate their high—value hubs based on where their most valuable staff want to live. This applies to our high—end Singaporeans too, especially the young ones who are also very mobile.
"Taxes are not the key consideration, and rightly so, but unfortunately they are not irrelevant. We should ideally have marginal taxes at the top end. However, there is the reality of Hong Kong, which caps income tax at 15 per cent effective tax rate for the highest income brackets.
"Therefore, I urge the ministry to study any progressive taxation initiative carefully before implementing them."
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