SINGAPORE: Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean has presented in Parliament the White Paper on Population, a roadmap to address Singapore’s demographic challenges.
The Land Use Plan was presented along with the White Paper.
The White Paper comes on the back of a shrinking and greying population in Singapore.
Mr Teo, who is also minister—in—charge of population policies, addressed the various concerns Singaporeans have raised over the past week following the release of the White Paper and the Land Use Plan.
First, the projected population of 6.9 million by 2030.
Mr Teo said the White Paper in fact is proposing a major shift — a significant slowdown in Singapore’s growth rate of workforce and population growth.
For example, population growth rate is in fact projected to drop to about half the historical growth rate.
Up to 2020, Singapore will also slow down the rate of workforce growth to 1% to 2%. Mr Teo said this is half of what it was before. Beyond that, he said, the White Paper projects a further reduction to about 1% per year.
"This is a significant reduction, just a third of what it was before," he said.
GDP growth may range between 2 and 3 percent from 2020 to 2030, less than half the average annual growth in the past decade.
Mr Teo added the government is not deciding on a population of 6.9 million by 2030.
The figure, he stressed, is only to prepare infrastructure plans.
What the population will be like in 2030, he said, will depend on the needs of Singaporeans and the decisions made on economic and workforce polices along the way.
Stressing that the report seeks to strike a fine balance, Mr Teo said it is fundamentally for the benefit of Singaporeans.
"We hope that with restructuring and productivity gains, with Singaporeans living healthier and longer and therefore choosing to remain in the workforce longer, and more women joining the workforce, our population will not reach 6.9 million.
"It is the ability to meet the needs of Singaporeans and provide a good quality of life that is the driver, not the numbers per se. If we are able to achieve this with a smaller population, whether 6.5 million or perhaps even lower, there is no reason to go higher."
Mr Teo added that if Singapore can raise its birth rate, then fewer immigrants are needed.
He also spoke about the urgency of addressing the country’s population challenges now.
By 2025, the citizen population will start to shrink, if nothing is done.
For example, the Total Fertility Rate of 1.2 now means that for every 100 Singaporeans in this generation, there will be 60 Singaporeans in the next generation, and only 36 in the generation after that.
This threatens the sustainability of the Singaporean core population, said Mr Teo.
There will also be fewer Singaporeans supporting the elderly.
Today, there are 5.9 working—age citizens for each citizen aged 65 and above.
By 2030, this will fall to 2.1 — roughly one—third.
"What does this mean for Singaporeans? Higher taxes on those working, to fund subsidised healthcare for a much larger number of seniors. Slower business activity and less investment in new sectors, leading to fewer job and career opportunities. Young Singaporeans may decide to leave for more exciting opportunities in other growing cities," said Mr Teo.
"This would hollow out our population and workforce further. This is a real worry, not on a national level, but for parents too who wonder whether their children will go abroad in search of better opportunities, and they will be left alone here, alone in their silver years."
To sustain the Singaporean population, Mr Teo said "the best and fundamental way is to encourage Singaporeans to start families".
"So regardless of whatever else we do, encouraging marriage and bringing up children must remain a key priority," he said.
But he added that to prevent the Singaporean core from shrinking and ageing rapidly, the country needs to augment the population with new citizens and permanent residents.
Mr Teo also addressed concerns over whether the government is pro—Singaporean or pro—foreigner.
He reiterated the need for immigrants to augment the Singaporean workforce.
For example, as more Singaporeans take up professional jobs, there is a need for foreign workers to take on the lower—skilled jobs, said Mr Teo.
There is also a need for foreigners to take on the jobs in emerging industries as the Singaporean workforce builds up its capability to take on such jobs.
But still, the reality is that workforce growth rate will be moderated to about 1 per cent a year beyond 2030, with GDP growth slowing to between 2 and 3 per cent a year during that time.
"So we are certainly not pursuing growth at all costs, as some have mistakenly claimed. Instead, we have set our sights on high—quality, productivity—driven, sustainable growth that will help to create good jobs, raise wages and improve the lives of Singaporeans," he said.
Even as the number of foreigners in Singapore increases, Singaporeans will remain at the core of the country’s policies, said Mr Teo.
"We defend Singapore and Singaporeans, because we are the stakeholders of our country — and our families, our homes and our futures are here. No foreigner can feel the same way. We may help to ensure the safety of foreigners who are here in time of conflict, but we are not defending their families or futures. We are defending ours and that will never change," he said.
As to questions on whether Singapore will be over—crowded in future, Mr Teo listed the efforts taken by various agencies to ramp up infrastructure and build ahead of demand.
Parliament will debate the White Paper and the Land Use Plan over the next few days, with 60 MPs slated to speak on the issue.
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