WP’s Full Motion on the Cost of Living Crisis—speech by Faisal Manap

Mr Speaker,

My esteemed WP colleagues have filed the original motion regarding the costs of living in Singapore at a time where many Singaporeans continue to feel the resulting pressures. The impact has been especially severe on lower income households, which I believe the government is to be aware of. 

I welcome the support measures that have been announced to date towards alleviating some of these pressures, such as the top-ups to the payouts under the Assurance Package, the CDC vouchers, Public Transport Vouchers, etc. These measures are meant to bolster the existing social safety net. 

The social safety net which exists in Singapore is multilayered, which the Government referred to previously as a “kueh lapis” – with each layer meant to tackle a specific area of need. It is an approach meant to prevent dependency, free riding, and abuse of the various measures in place. 

I also note that Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong had recently said that ComLink would be enhanced towards helping families in non-financial ways such as coaching. This is meant to aid social mobility and prevent further social stratification. 

Having all these systems in place is well and good. However, I believe it is also important that we establish a means of assessing the effectiveness of our social safety net. To this end, I would like to reiterate a call I first made back in 2014, calling for Singapore to adopt the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Social Protection framework. 

ILO’s Social Protection approach calls for a “fair and inclusive globalisation” involving an “integrated set of social policies designed to guarantee income security and access to essential social services for all, paying particular attention to vulnerable groups and protecting and empowering people across the life cycle”. There are four essential guarantees, namely “access to essential healthcare for all, income security for children, assistance to vulnerable groups, and income security for the elderly and disabled.”

If the government would prefer a more localised framework, then it is notable that a group of academics led by Assoc Prof Teo You Yenn and Dr Ng Kok Hoe have published two reports on the “Minimum Income Standard” for households in Singapore. The latest version was released in September 2023, and provoked discussion in the media and online forums. The report has a comprehensive definition for what is considered a basic standard of living in Singapore. It is about having opportunities in education, employment and work-life balance, and access to healthcare. A basic standard of living “enables a sense of belong, respect, security and independence, and includes choices to participate in social activities, and the freedom to engage in one’s cultural and religious practices.”

In responding to the report, three ministries, namely finance, manpower, and social and family development, released a joint statement. In that statement, they noted that what the report described was “what individuals would like to have”. The Government also recapped the various measures that had been taken to address the needs of lower income households, such as the payout increases for ComCare, the Progressive Wage Model, and the Majulah Package. According to the statement, the government “regularly review the scope, coverage and payout quanta of our schemes.”

I believe that the process of reviewing the various layers of social assistance can be further improved. To this end, I would also like to reiterate my previous call for the establishment of three Social Protection steps, corresponding to 30, 50, and 80% of the median income per household member. Based on the median income per household member of $3,247 released in February 2023, the three steps would correspond to, approximately, $1000, $1,700 and $2,600. Broadly, these levels do correspond to existing thresholds for the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS). 

Using the resulting statistics, I would like to propose again that the Ministry of Social and Family Development publish an annual Social Protection Report. The report could include information on the number of recipient households, and track movements of households from one step to another, amongst other statistics. 

There are several good reasons for establishing a more systematic approach towards tracking the effectiveness of our social assistance programmes via the Social Protection Report. It would create accountability for the use of public funds in our social assistance programmes. Rather than report on spot figures on the number of recipient households, the report would present a more holistic picture on the state of social protection and assistance in Singapore. 

The government could also set objective Key Performance Indicators based around the Social Protection Report. A vital KPI could be reducing the percentage of households in Steps 1 and 2 within a reasonable time frame, perhaps within five years.  

If the percentages stagnate or if the report indicates a lack of progress, it could indicate a need to reexamine current approaches, and identify gaps in the existing social protection system. For example, some recipient households may be in need of assistance in securing a place in a childcare centre, or a student care centre for their primary school age children so that the parent can pursue employment without worrying about caregiving.  

The Social Protection Report could also be useful in raising awareness amongst Singaporeans of the nature of the issues faced by the lower income groups. This in turn, could foster better coordination between Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs), non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and government agencies as they rely on a unified set of statistics and tracking tools. It may also encourage more individuals who are better off economically to step up and help their fellow Singaporeans in need by volunteering their time, energy or just making donations to aid the work of VWOs and NGOs. 

Sir, in Malay, please.

Anggota Parlimen Parti Pekerja telah membentangkan usul yang menyarankan supaya pihak pemerintah mengkaji semula dasar-dasarnya dengan tujuan merendahkan kos sara hidup untuk warga Singapura dan keluarga mereka, terutama golongan berpendapatan rendah yang lebih terjejas. 

Dalam tahun 2014, saya telah menyarankan supaya pihak pemerintah mengadakan rangka kerja perlindungan sosial Pertubuhan Buruh Antarabangsa. Saya ingin sekali lagi sarankan yang sama kepada pihak pemerintah. Melalui rangka kerja tersebut, pihak pemerintah dapat menubuhkan dasar-dasar yang menjamin keselamatan pendapatan dan akses kepada perkhidmatan sosial penting untuk semua, memberi perhatian khusus kepada kumpulan yang terdedah dan melindungi serta memperkasakan orang ramai merentasi kitaran hayat. Terdapat juga suatu lagi rangka kerja dalam laporan “Standard Pendapatan Minimum” yang diterbit sekumpulan akademik termasuk Professor Madya Teo You Yenn dan Dr Ng Kok Hoe.

Pokoknya, saya yakin dengan adanya rangka kerja yang sesuai, kami dapat memantau dan menyemak keberkesanannya, dasar bantuan sosial untuk warga yang berpendapatan rendah di Singapura. Saya juga ingin sekali lagi menyarankan agar pihak pemerintah menubuhkan Tiga Tingkat Perlindungan Sosial, di mana setiap tingkat sepadan dengan 30 peratus, 50 peratus, dan 80 peratus pendapatan median. Seterusnya, saya menyarankan Kementerian Pembangunan Sosial dan Keluarga (MSF) untuk menerbitkan Laporan Perlindungan Sosial setiap tahun, menggunakan maklumat termasuk jumlah keluarga yang meneriman bantuan sosial, jumlah keluarga yang Berjaya maju dari tingkat yang rendah ke tingkat yang lebih tinggi, dan banyak lagi. 

Dengan maklumat ini, kita dapat lebih memahami keberkesannya dasar bantuan sosial yang wujud di Singapura, dan juga mempertimbangkan keperluan mengubah dasar-dasar supaya bantuan sesuai dapat disediakan untuk mereka yang memerlukannya.

Sir, the Forward Singapore final report which was recently released spoke of the risks of our society becoming more stratified and less mobile as our society develops. The government pledged to do more to ensure equal opportunities, temper unequal outcomes, and prevent the creation of a permanent underclass. These are objectives I support as well. The Social Protection framework I have proposed would complement the government’s efforts to achieve these objectives and track the progress of efforts undertaken towards achieving them.

Sir, I support the original motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition.