SINGAPORE: The Government will provide more financial support for lower-wage and older workers with increased annual payouts from the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) scheme, as well as extend initiatives that will help them save more for retirement.
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat outlined these developments in his Budget speech on Monday (Feb 18) as part of the Government’s long-term strategy to build a caring and inclusive society.
To supplement the income of lower-wage workers, the Government will enhance WIS by providing cash payouts and CPF top-ups for workers whose earnings are in the bottom 20 per cent, with some support for those slightly above.
Firstly, the qualifying income cap for WIS will be raised from the current S$2,000 to S$2,300 per month, and this will take effect from January 2020. Secondly, the maximum annual payouts will be increased by up to S$400. Older workers will also see higher increases in payouts. For example, workers aged 60 and earning S$1,200 per month will now receive S$4,000 a year from WIS, or almost 30 per cent of their wages, Mr Heng said.
He added that these enhancements will cost an additional S$206 million a year, pushing the overall enhanced WIS cost to close to S$1 billion a year in total, benefiting almost 440,000 people.
The Government will also be topping up the Special Employment Credit (SEC) fund by S$366 million to increase support for employers hiring older workers.
The SEC, along with the Additional SEC (ASEC) to encourage employers to hire workers who are above the re-employment age, will both be extended for another year until Dec 31, 2020.
“The Government will study better forms of support to continue to help workers to remain productive, earn more, and save more for retirement. We will review the relevance and structure of the SEC and ASEC, in tandem with the recommendation from the Tripartite Workgroup on Older Workers,” said Mr Heng.
ENHANCED CHAS SUBSIDIES AT GP CLINICS
To boost healthcare access at neighbourhood clinics, the Government will extend Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) subsidies to cover all Singaporeans for chronic conditions, regardless of income.
For lower to middle-income Singaporeans who are CHAS Orange cardholders and who currently receive subsidies for chronic conditions, the subsidies will be extended for common illnesses. Subsidies for complex chronic conditions will also be increased.
Mr Heng also noted that the Government must put in measures to ensure that CHAS clinics are delivering good outcomes.
He said: “To this end, the Ministry of Health will be looking at how to help CHAS clinics better track their patients’ progress and outcomes. In a similar vein, MOH will also review its clinical guidelines for care provided at CHAS dental clinics, to ensure that the care delivered is appropriate to the needs of the patient.”
With the changes, the Government will expect to pay out more than S$200 million a year in CHAS subsidies.
On top of that, the Government will be setting aside another S$3.1 billion, on top of the S$2 billion earmarked last year to support financial protection for the long-term care of Singaporeans.
“The Government will put this S$5.1 billion into a new Long-Term Care Support Fund. This will help fund the CareShield Life Subsidies and other long-term care support measures, such as ElderFund,” said Mr Heng.
FIVE-YEAR MEDISAVE TOP-UPS
Mr Heng also announced increased support for Singaporeans part of the Merdeka Generation.
But for people aged 50 and above in 2019, who do not receive the Merdeka Generation Package, Mr Heng announced that the Government will provide a MediSave top-up of S$100 a year for them for the next five years.
“This is a generation who are even younger and healthier, and I hope that everyone will make the extra effort to stay active and healthy,” said Mr Heng.
Meanwhile, the Government will also raise cash assistance rates for the ComCare Long-Term Assistance and Singapore Allowance scheme.
The scheme provides basic monthly cash assistance to those who are permanently unable to work and have little family support, to support their living expenses. As a result of the increased rates, a two-person household who both qualify for the scheme will receive an additional S$130 a month. This brings their total assistance to S$1,000 a month.
Furthermore, government pensioners who draw lower pensions will see an increase in the Singapore Allowance and monthly pension ceiling by S$20 per month each, to S$320 and S$1,250 respectively. This will benefit around 9,300 pensioners, Mr Heng said.
INCREASED SUPPORT FOR CHILDREN FROM DISADVANTAGED BACKGROUNDS
The Government is also looking to do more to better support children from disadvantaged backgrounds, by intervening earlier, with new forms of proactive and targeted support.
To that end, the Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce (UPLIFT) will pilot upstream interventions and partner communities to help disadvantaged children and their families, to ensure that no child is left behind.
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Mr Heng highlighted a recent initiative – the UPLIFT scholarship for Independent Schools – which provides a monetary award of S$800 per year to eligible lower-income students in Independent Schools to cover their out-of-pocket expenses.
“The taskforce is also looking at how to strengthen after-school care and support for disadvantaged students in school-based Student Care Centres,” said Mr Heng. He added that the Minister of Education will elaborate on this and other initiatives spurred by UPLIFT during the Committee of Supply debate.
OTHER SUPPORT FOR HOUSEHOLDS
In addition to the special Bicentennial initiatives, the Government will provide another year of Service and Conservancy Charges (S&CC) Rebate to HDB households.
Eligible households will receive S&CC rebates of between one and a half and three and a half months. This will cost the Government S$132 million and benefit 930,000 households, Mr Heng said.
He added that S$10 million will be added to the Public Transport Fund to continue helping commuters in need with their transport expenses, such as through Public Transport Vouchers for lower-income families.
“The Government keeps a close watch on the cost of living. Over the years, we have done much to alleviate cost pressures – whether in healthcare, education or day-to-day expenses,” said Mr Heng.