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Employment, healthcare costs among key topics discussed in pre-budget feedback

Improving employment prospects through continuing education, increasing CPF contribution rates for older workers, making healthcare affordable, and more support for vulnerable groups were some of the key suggestions for Budget 2014.

SINGAPORE: Improving employment prospects through continuing education, increasing CPF contribution rates for older workers, making healthcare affordable, and more support for vulnerable groups were some of the key suggestions for Budget 2014.

In a statement on Sunday, government feedback channel REACH said these views were among over 1,300 suggestions that it received in its pre-budget exercise, which was conducted online and in face-to-face sessions.

Employment, healthcare costs, the Pioneer Generation Package and social support were the hot topics, accounting for a third of the feedback received.

Under the topic of employment, measures to improve the prospects of local Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians' (PMET) were widely discussed. Apart from the suggestion to step up continuing education and training, contributors also discussed the provision of substantial grants and subsidies to help with training costs.

For PMETs who are looking for a job, there were calls for initiatives such as job attachments or job trials to increase their employment opportunities. There was also a suggestion for a training subsidy to retrain those who decided to make a lateral career switch to remain employable.

As for older workers, contributors called on the government to consider adjusting CPF contribution rates for workers aged 50 to 55 to ensure parity with younger workers. There were also discussions on encouraging companies to hire older workers, and a call to increase support for older workers to stay in or re-enter the workforce.

Turning to low-wage workers, there were calls to look into the welfare of workers in low-growth sectors to be retrained for other jobs.

Contributors suggested more assistance for low-wage workers such as greater healthcare subsidies.

Contributors also urged the government to ensure that Singaporeans remain employed with good jobs, and for Singaporeans' wages to keep pace with inflation and the rising cost of living.

To nudge employers towards increasing staff salaries, contributors suggested that the government set up guidelines on salary ranges based on qualifications, knowledge and work experience.

On healthcare costs, contributors brought up the issue of affordability, seeking more assurance. The majority felt that the use of Medisave could be liberalised to cover more chronic illnesses, MRI scanning, private insurance premiums and dental treatment.

On the forthcoming MediShield Life scheme, some voiced concerns about the likely increase in premiums, and some urged the government to take the lead in keeping premiums affordable.

But there were also concerns that universal healthcare coverage might cause people to be complacent about their health.

Weighing in on the subject of honouring the pioneer generation, contributors agreed that more government support in healthcare should be provided to the elderly. Besides top-ups to Medisave for this group, they also suggested priority access to healthcare, greater subsidies in nursing support, and free health screening and dental care biannually.

For those elderly who are asset-rich but cash-poor, contributors proposed reviewing the means-testing provision for intermediate and long-term care.

Contributors also pushed for greater support for vulnerable groups in the society, including additional day care centres and stepped-up financial help on consumable items for the elderly.

Raising concerns that it might be demoralising for the needy and vulnerable groups to approach government agencies for financial help, some recommended rallying Singaporeans' kampong spirit, and using General Practitioners (GPs), school counsellors, and other touch points to identify the needy, through whom help could be better dispensed.

The feedback exercise was conducted from November 22, 2013 to January 29, 2014. 

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