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Ex-GIC chief economist asks how the Govt can be serious about tackling inequality without undertaking social reforms

Mr Yeoh pointed out that the support offered to the poor and elderly was insufficient and was one of the key areas that the government needs to look into

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Ex-GIC chief economist Yeoh Lam Keong has reiterated his desire that the Government should implement fiscally responsible social reforms, if it is serious about tackling inequality in Singapore.

Last week, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said that Singapore’s approach to tackling inequality is to invest in the bottom to uplift them. The ruling party politician asserted that childhood education is the key to tackling inequality and that Singapore has invested heavily to make quality pre-schools affordable and accessible to all.

Responding to Mr Ong’s views, Mr Yeoh said yesterday that while he has strong personal respect for the ruling party politician, he believes that “early childhood education is not the panacea.”

Asserting that Singapore cannot seriously tackle inequality without undertaking social reforms, that should have been implemented decades ago, Mr Yeoh pointed to the insufficient support the poor and elderly receive as one of the areas the Government needs to look at. He said:

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“Both the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) and Silver Support Scheme (SSS) for our poorest citizens and elderly are set at miserly and insufficient levels (around $300 mostly in CPF and $250 a month respectively).

“Raising both by $500-$600 a month in cash to greatly alleviate absolute poverty would be easily affordable fiscally yet we refuse to do so.”

Mr Yeoh also said that there are other issues, like the high cost of public housing which leaves Singapore’s poorest citizens with “chronically insufficient decent sized subsidized rental HDB flats”.

He also criticised the Government’s refusal to “abolish unnecessary national streaming at 12 years old at the PSLE which clearly disadvantages children from poorer families or reduce class sizes which clearly disadvantage the poor.”

The Singaporean added that the lack of “universally affordable medical care in the form of either long term care or chronic primary care” also disadvantages the poorest citizens who cannot afford medical care.

Mr Yeoh noted that these social policy reforms are “fiscally affordable and should have been in place more than a decade ago.”

This is not the first time that Mr Yeoh has asked the Government to undertake such social reforms to tackle inequality.

In November last year, he asked Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing why the onus to help the underprivileged is put on the people instead of the Government “redoubling its current insufficient efforts” to help the less privileged.

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