Singapore — In the fifth of the National Broadcasts on Singapore after Covid-19, Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam spoke on the theme, A Stronger And More Cohesive Society, on Wednesday (June 17). The overall theme involves solidarity, social cohesion and enforcing equal opportunities.
Mr Tharman, who is the Coordinating Minister for Social Policies, refers to Covid-19 as “the makings of a profound social crisis” and how although Singapore cannot defy the global economic downturn, it must “absolutely defy the loss of social cohesion, the polarisation and the despair that is taking hold in many other countries”.
He emphasises that the economic challenges that Singapore faces underscore the need for the country to strengthen its social compact and make sure that no one is left behind.
One of the “critical” ways that Mr Tharman suggests we improve social mobility is through good schools. The Government aims to provide more aid for those with lower incomes so that they can have a better chance of moving up the social ladder. He states that “we must never become a society where social pedigrees and connections” count for more than the effort put in by citizens.
The Government is investing “a lot more” into equalising opportunities when children are young, said Mr Tharman, pointing to programmes such as KidStart, which is designed to help lower-income families and their children.
He acknowledges that people from a wealthier family are more able to provide their children with better and more quality education than the lower-income, and hence able to move them forward than the rest. Therefore, the “relentless” government effort to intervene in schools and dedicated networks of community support to keep social mobility alive.
“We are investing a lot more in our schools to make sure that every student who needs extra support will get it,” said Mr Tharman.
The Government is supporting schools with more resources such as more teachers, student welfare officers and teacher counsellors. Similarly, the Ministry of Education is also attempting to equip all secondary schools students with laptops or tablets for learning, which is seven years ahead of the original target.
These efforts are to ensure that Singapore (is) a place where everyone can do well regardless of starting points.
In spite of government efforts, he repeats that the solidarity and selflessness of Singaporeans are required in looking out for the more vulnerable. He states that this is a “part of a broader reorientation of society”.
The Government has increased subsidies for lower and middle-income families in education, housing and healthcare, including CHAS. It is also boosting Silver Support to help poorer retirees.
Mr Tharman adds that, very importantly, it continues to strengthen support for lower-income Singaporeans at work. Through Workfare and the Special Employment Credit, the Government pays older lower-income workers as much as 40% on top of the wages they get from their employers.
Similarly, he states that, through the Progressive Wage Model, cleaners, security officers and landscape workers have seen wages increase by 30% in real terms over the last 5 years. This is part of a “progress in uplifting the lowest-paid workers”. In time, the Government wants every sector to have progressive wages with a clear ladder of skills, better jobs and better wages for those with lower pay.
The Ministry of Manpower and the tripartite partnerships are working actively on this.
Likewise, the Government wants to provide lower-income Singaporeans in short-term contract work with opportunities to get more stable jobs. These measures will bring meaningful and continuing improvements in pay and conditions for lower-income workers. It may lead to a small rise in the cost of services that all pay but it is a “small price” to pay for better jobs and income security for those who need it most and a “fair society”.
Mr Tharman added: “It is about how we draw closer to each other, regardless of race, religion or social background. It is how we journey together. A forward-looking, spirited and more cohesive society.” /TISG