By Jane Wong
From the debate sparked off by the CNA documentary about Singapore’s class divide titled ‘Regardless of Class’ featuring Dr. Janil Puthucheary, to the book ‘This is What Inequality Looks Like’ by sociologist Teo You Yenn, inequality seems to be a hot button issue in Singapore. Critics are aplenty, from alternative media to outspoken activists, but it is tough to arrive at a legitimate solution for an issue this complex.
In a speech at the recent NUS Social Service Research Centre Conference, Second Minister for Education and Finance Indranee Rajah set out the 4G leadership team's vision in tackling inequality and ensuring social mobility for Singaporeans. An important issue, no doubt, and one that could potentially change lives.
To spare you from having to read the full speech, here are the five important takeaways from Minister Indranee’s speech.
1. Strengthening support for the disadvantaged, and building opportunities for all
The 4G leaders will adopt a two-fold approach to tackle inequality and maintain social mobility.
Firstly, there will be more support for the less fortunate in Singapore.
Secondly, the 4G leaders hope to build a society of opportunities for all – at every stage of life. I really like what she’d said here, “Singapore must always be a society of opportunities for all, throughout life, where everyone can progress irrespective of starting point; where all Singaporeans will have equal chance to seek better lives - to meet their aspirations and find happiness - regardless of background.”
2. Enabling meritocracy that uplifts the bottom and not to cap the top
Instead of holding back those who can achieve more so that we can equalize outcomes for everyone, the Government will bridge the shortfalls and narrow the gaps in society so that all Singaporeans can progress together.
They aim to do this by “improving access to opportunities among the less advantaged and help them make the most of these opportunities on offer”.
3. Strengthening social support to vulnerable groups
Over the years, the Government has provided assistance and social support to vulnerable groups and those who need it most at each stage of their lives with different schemes such as:
· Additional CPF Housing Grant to help young families afford homes
· Kindergarten Fee Assistance Scheme (KiFAS) and Basic and Additional Subsidies for childcare to give children a good start in life
· Enhanced Workfare and the Progressive Wage Models (PWM) to support the lower-income workers
· Pioneer Generation and Merdeka Generation Packages to offset healthcare costs for seniors.
On top of all these, to provide comprehensive, convenient and coordinated social aids so as to further strengthen social support for disadvantaged families, social assistance will be brought closer to the ground through the setting up of Social Service Offices (SSOs) near HDB precincts with needy Singaporeans. With the aim to further strengthen social support for disadvantaged families, the SSOs will play an integral role in tackling inequality. This requires the joint effort of ministries to support the resolution of problems needy Singaporeans may encounter.
4. Through Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce (UPLIFT)
The UPLIFT programme provides opportunities for Singaporeans to partner one another, and work with the Government to better support children from disadvantaged families.
On top of learning insights and experience through community engagement and interacting with volunteers to implement initiatives to support disadvantaged children, an UPLIFT Programme Office will be set up for better coordination and leverage of community assets and resources, as well as to better match community resources to schools, based on specific needs.
5. Singaporeans to be supportive and involved in the community to help the disadvantaged
And finally, to strengthen the ecosystem of care and support for disadvantaged Singaporeans, Minister Indranee asks Singaporeans to “care for one another and look out for one another” as a matter of “national interest”.
About the author
Jane is a true red-blooded Singaporean who cares deeply about social mobility and hawker food culture on our little red dot. She was in a marketing job with one of the major telcos before moving to work for a not-for-profit organization. She devours the latest current affairs news for breakfast and sports a ferocious appetite for juicy entertainment news.
Our team too believes that tackling inequality is a matter of national interest. Minister Indranee is right to say that what is at stake is the very nature of our society, and that it is the task of everyone because it affects all of us. We can do the work that we do because of the support from ministries and agencies, other ground-up communities, the labour movement and also businesses and compassionate individuals.
After all, it does take a village to empower lives.