Budget 2024 Speech – by Dennis Tan

Budget Speech – 26th February 2024

Dennis Tan Lip Fong

Mr Speaker, for my Budget Debate speech, I would first like to speak on certain issues relating to the support for our seniors, followed by the issue of support for adults with disabilities and finally, like in my previous years’ Budget Debate Speech, I will continue with the issue of Green Transition.

Support for Our Seniors

Age Well SG

Mr Speaker, DPM and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said in his Budget speech that preventive care is especially important for seniors, that loneliness can do great harm to a senior. They need to stay active and socially connected. Hence the Government will set aside $3.5 billion to start the Age Well SG for the next decade. There are several components to this and one component is that there will be an expanded network of Active Ageing Centres (AACs) providing a wider range of programmes.

Mr Speaker, as always, the devil is in the details. I look forward to hearing more details from the minister in charge on the changes in plans for AACs but in the meantime I have several comments and questions.

First, I would like to ask MOH what is the current situation with the staffing as well as recruitment efforts for our AACs. How will MOH assist our AACs to recruit and maintain additional staff to tackle the manpower needs for a bigger scale AAC landscape? Does the Government have a guideline in mind for the manpower staffing per centre under AAC 2.0, of course, taking into consideration that the requirements for clusters may vary according to the size of the cluster?

AACs have a mix of staff and volunteers. While staff strength of AACs may vary from centre to centre, and volunteers are also an integral part of AACs, volunteers may not always be able to take over the roles, expertise and professionalism of the professionals in our AACs.

Next, for the group of seniors who do not wish to be involved in their AACs’ activities or do not desire to keep in contact with their AACs, I would like to know what are the plans that Age Well SG may have for them as far as outreach and keeping in contact are concerned. This would be in line with tackling loneliness and ad dressing the need for seniors to be socially connected as mentioned by DPM Wong. I am especially concerned with those who live alone, keep to themselves and who are not close to th eir families or neighbours. Beyond having more or more varied activities, we need to study what approach can be taken to better enable AACs to keep in regular contact with this group at least to provide support when needed. Studies should also be done to see how AACs can attract better male participation.

DPM Wong also mentioned in his speech of silver upgrades to our residential estates to enable seniors to live more independently and safely in the community by way of amenities such as therapeutic gardens and barrier free ramps and senior-friendly home fittings such as wider toilet entrances and shower seats. I look forward to more details from the Government including how these amenities will be made available to residents in their homes and in our common spaces.

DPM Wong also said that there will be improvements to infrastructure for seniors’ mobility and safety such as more sheltered linkways, bus stops with senior friendly features, as well as safer and more pedestrian-friendly roads. As recently as August 2022, in an answer to a Parliamentary Question, the then Minister for Transport said that there were no plans to expand the criteria of LTA’s existing covered linkway programme covering a 400-metre radius of major transport nodes such as MRT, LRT stations and bus interchanges. I hope that there is now a rethink about the approach for covered linkway especially on lands administered by LTA or other state lands. LTA should consider linking the heavily utilised bus stops to nearby housing estates, e.g. working with town councils to link up such heavily utilised bus stops with the nearest covered walkways within HDB estates.

The Medisave Bonus and the Medisave Withdrawal Limit

Still relating to seniors, the Budget will give all Singaporeans born in 1973 or earlier a Medisave Bonus of $750, and double this at $1,500 if they are part of the Majulah Generation and their residence has an Annual Value (AV) of not more than $25,000.

For seniors with, especially, multiple chronic illnesses and frequent medical appointments, this Medisave top-up will not help much as long as the annual Medisave withdrawal limit remains at $700 a year for patients with chronic illnesses.

Can the Government look at increasing the cap for the Medisave withdrawal limit for seniors with multiple chronic conditions, so that such seniors, especially seniors who are retired and not working or are unable to work, will be less out-of-pocket when paying their bills?

I note that the Medisave withdrawal limit was revised in Jan 2021. Would it now be timely for the limit to be raised, at the very least to keep up with elevated inflation? Given that the quarterly quantum of Silver Support Scheme will be raised by 20%, can the Government consider raising the Medisave withdrawal limits from say $500 to $600 and from $700 to $840 for chronic cases as well and that those suffering from multiple illnesses to be granted further extension of the caps on a case-by-case basis?

Mr Speaker, in Mandarin please.


黄副总理提到通过邻里银发设施的翻新和提升以让年长者能够在社区中更加独立和安全地生活。这包括扩展有盖走道,具有年长者友好功能的巴士车站等等。在2022年8月,当时的交通部长曾表示,陆交局没有扩展现有的有盖走道的计划。目前,陆交局的有盖走道路线 限制于地铁、巴士总站40米内。我希望政府能重新考虑这个策略,特别是在陆交局或国有土地管理的地皮。例如,陆交局可以考虑和市政会合作,将组屋邻里由有盖人行道 连接到比较繁忙的巴士车站。

此外,预算案也包括了为符合条件的国人提供一次性保健储蓄花红(Medisave Bonus)。数额由年龄和住家的房屋年值记算而定于$750或$1500。

对于患有多种慢性疾病而需时常去门诊的乐龄人士,尤其是那些已退休了或无法工作的乐龄人士,如果每年提款顶限还定在$700的话,这次的 填补可能 不能 给予太大的帮助。

提款顶线 上一次 是在2021年1月进行了修订,在这物价高涨的时候,为了减少退休人士的现金支出,政府是否会考虑调高 保健储蓄提款顶限?

乐龄补贴计划(Silver Support Scheme)即将进一步提升百分之二十, 政府是否能考虑也把保健储蓄提款顶限的数额同样提升百分之二十?

Support for adults with disabilities

Mr Speaker, I will next touch on the issue of support for adults with disabilities. I welcome DPM Wong’s announcement that he will provide more support for adults with disabilities. He said he will expand spaces in Sheltered Workshops and Day Activity Centres where they can undergo skills training and launch more Enabling Services Hubs to provide community support to persons with disabilities and their caregivers.

I believe that as a society there is a lot more that we can and should do for adults with disabilities among us, in particular adults with serious special needs, as well as their caregivers.

Earlier this month, I filed a PQ asking whether the MSF will consider increasing the number of Day Activity Centres and residential homes for adult persons with autism.

Minister Masagos replied that there are currently 8 Day Activity Centres serving adults with autism spectrum disorder with over 300 clients enrolled in these Day Activity Centres and about 80 referrals pending enrolment. He also said that there are four Adult Disability Homes funded by MSF serving adults with autism spectrum disorder. There are about 50 residents with autism spectrum disorder in these Adult Disability Homes which have capacity to house about 100 residents. About 20 referrals are pending enrolment.

Mr Speaker, I believe there is such a need to increase our Day Activity Centres and residential homes. I believe that we really should increase our resources to provide continuous training for adults with disabilities including but not limited to special needs adults such as those with moderate to severe autism, beyond their time in the SPED schools. In my view there are multiple possible benefits. We should continue to think of ways to improve longer term post-SPED school education or training, providing further education and skills training. More studies should be done to increase the possible range of work training these adults can undergo and the range of work they can undertake in society. This will enhance their lives and promote better integration with society. At the same time, spending time at Day Activity Centres (rather than at home), with structured programmes, activities and interaction with others will also enhance the mental well-being of such adults.

My heart also goes out to senior caregivers and their special needs adult children, wondering what is going to happen to the care of their children when their health gives way one day. Even where these parents may have other children who are non- special needs, is it appropriate to expect them to take over care of their siblings when their parents pass on? Should we not provide adequate residential homes for these adults with more structured care and development? And can we also consider for these homes to allow some of the special needs adults to be able to go home to their families on weekends, providing some balance between residential care and home care, allowing family members suitable respite in the process.

Minister Masagos also said that MSF has been working with the sector to develop plans to better support adults with autism and their families, given the increase in awareness of autism and in the clarity of its diagnostic criteria and that MSF will share more details in the coming months. I hope MSF is able to share such details in the Budget and COS debates including details of any studies undertaken on issues related to care and support for adults with autism.

Mr Speaker, in November last year, I filed a PQ asking the Minister, among other things, whether the Ministry keeps a record of the current number of elderly caregivers who are caring for adult persons with intellectual disabilities and whether the Ministry will consider developing and implementing early identification and support programmes for such caregivers. SMS Tan Kiat How mentioned in his reply that MSF does not directly track the number of elderly caregivers who are caring for adults with intellectual disabilities.

In December 2023, news broke that one of my Hougang residents, an adult with special needs stayed in his flat with the body of his elderly father after his passing for five days, while continuing to attend day sessions at his day care centre.

While I am extremely thankful that the authorities and stakeholders were commendably quick to assist and arrange for care for the son thereafter, this case reinforces the need for us to consider developing and implementing an early identification and support programme for elderly caregivers who are caring for adults with special needs.

Such a programme could adopt a multi-agency approach that involves our Active Ageing Centres, day care centres for adults with disabilities, healthcare providers and even service providers like lawyers who may have interactions with family members in the course of their related work, as well as stakeholder agencies like AIC and MSF, such that each party can trigger another party to provide necessary checks or support for the family. Studies should be done to see how contact and support can be appropriately maintained by one or more stakeholder for both elderly care givers as well as the special needs adults.

Last year, I said in my Budget Debate Speech that we should work towards AACs which cater to different needs of seniors whether social or medical and for more specialist areas like mental health, disabled persons (who are seniors), the centres should still be the referring centres even if other organizations or sub units are involved. Indeed, an expanded AAC can also perform the coordinator or contact role for elderly caregivers of adults with disabilities.

Our Ongoing Efforts for Green Transition

Mr Speaker, let me now move on to our ongoing efforts for Green Transition.

Mr Speaker, last year I said in my Budget Debate speech that we need a detailed roadmap for re-training workers in these sectors as Singapore decarbonises and I asked whether we have sufficient sustainability-related courses that businesses and workers can afford to attend – both in terms of time and money. In my speech today, I will go on to talk about the quality of the education to be provided.

Mr Speaker, ‘capacity building’ is a core concept of development. In the context of climate change and sustainable development, upskilling is now necessary to ensure a just transition and that no worker is left behind.

Singapore has been investing heavily in lifelong learning and upskilling since SkillsFuture was launched back in 2015. Government spending has shifted towards adult education and training to accelerate the nation’s green transition. Institutes of Higher Learning form the backbone of this shift and there exists a multitude of courses available to build capacity and upskill the existing workforce in areas such as ESG and carbon services and trading.

However, growing our talent pipeline must also include investing in primary, secondary and tertiary education. I am pleased to hear of a new Master of Science in Climate Change and Sustainability (MSc CCS) programme at NUS. The MSc programme in Data Science for Sustainability was also recently launched in NUS, to train data scientists who can integrate their knowledge and skills with an understanding of sustainability issues.

The Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has an Asian School of the Environment and offers majors in environmental earth systems science, public policy and even a second major in sustainability. These are examples of positive development in Singapore, but to ensure that graduates are well equipped to meet the demands of the times, all such courses must go through sufficient policy and industry validation. For instance, institutes of higher learning should, if they have not done so, internalize the SkillsFuture reports to assess skills future needs in these areas and assess what skillsets they have to teach undergrads & graduate students.

We should also encourage our course providers to ensure that all courses provide adequate time, emphasis and coverage on Singapore so that students can really understand how to green Singapore, and the challenges we face.

Do knowledge providers have the right people to teach and impart such knowledge and skills? How do we ensure this? Some form of impact assessment is necessary to track lifelong learners’ progress, comprehension and application.

Second, knowledge and content providers across the Institutes of Higher Learning also need to be given adequate support to do this important work of providing the knowledge and skills for the workforce. Hiring practices at universities need to reflect contribution to society beyond traditional publication and impact factors. If Singapore is to succeed in our green transition, more emphasis needs to be placed on hiring experts that have real-world experience in solving complex sustainability challenges.

Demand is also growing for Singapore to help build regional and international capacity. Overall, there is growing demand for Singapore’s experts to be ready and available to impart valuable knowledge. To do so, we need more Singaporeans to step forward with the right knowledge, skills and attitude to help grow our local, regional and international sustainability talent. Indeed, we need to actively grow our pool of educators.

Climate change demands urgent action from everyone, across all sectors of society. As we focus on upskilling and capacity building of workers, we must also not overlook the support and training we need to give our educators. We need to grow our pool of sustainability educators and we need to do so fast in this quick journey of manpower transition so that we do not lag behind our 2030 and 2050 goals.

Mr Speaker, in closing, I look forward to the replies to the concerns I have raised. Thank you.