SINGAPORE: Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing said that going forward, the country will have to grapple with even more social needs.
The challenge, Mr Chan said, is to find the resources to fund and sustain social programmes without burdening future generations.
Mr Chan was speaking at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy’s eighth anniversary public lecture on Friday.
The theme of the lecture was "Reflections on Social Policies: Negotiating Tensions and Dilemmas".
He said as a society, Singapore must come to a consensus about who should receive help, given the finite resources available.
For some, he said, there is a need to manage expectations.
Mr Chan said his ministry is already extending various help schemes and making social transfers to those in the middle and in some cases, even beyond the middle—income group.
He said this is possible because of Singapore’s healthy fiscal position.
Mr Chan said: "We need to help them understand that there are others who need help more. As beneficiaries of opportunities that the system created, we too have a responsibility to help others who are less fortunate.
"While we cannot shield our people entirely from the intense global competition, we can and will certainly prepare them to stand up to it."
"Managing expectations is not an easy task, but we need to be frank with ourselves on the challenges, tradeoffs and choices that we must face," Mr Chan added.
But there can be unintended consequences for some policies, the acting minister said, citing the concept of universal subsidy for childcare.
Mr Chan explained that it may not necessarily ease the affordability issue and improve the quality of childcare.
For example, instead of using the subsidy to mitigate the cost of childcare services, Mr Chan said some parents may channel the additional help to pursue more expensive services that they perceive to be better.
He said this may then set off a vicious circle where centres perceived to be of higher—quality are able to charge higher fees, pay more to attract better quality teachers and attract better quality students.
This, Mr Chan said, may compound the problem of social segregation.
"So, we must constantly keep a close watch on how suppliers and parents respond and make adjustments if necessary, so that the benefits of subsidies do not just go only to suppliers or parents who wish to pursue more expensive services," he said.
Mr Chan added that apart from making sound policies, policy makers must also keep their eyes firmly on execution to achieve intended outcomes and avoid unintended ones.
At a dialogue session later, Mr Chan said the challenge is finding that "sweet spot" in policies by making adjustments where necessary, citing how Singapore is trying hard to balance its immigration policy.
The acting minister said that he did not think the sweet spot between making sure there is a strong Singapore core —— by encouraging marriage and pro—creation and increasing productivity —— and bringing in more migrants was a pre—determined one.
At the event, Mr Chan also launched a book which commemorates the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy’s eight anniversary.
Titled "Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy: Building a Global Policy School in Asia", the book contains the reflections and perspectives by five key members of the school on the school’s journey to date.
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