SINGAPORE: Measures to strengthen the “social compact” and support Singaporeans who have been more badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic were announced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Tuesday (Feb 16).
“To strengthen our social compact, we must work together to address the challenges faced by the more vulnerable members of our society,” he said in his Budget speech, highlighting lower-wage workers, lower-income families and children with special needs as groups that need more support.
LOWER-WAGE AND OLDER WORKERS
The Government’s “aspiration” is for every sector of the economy to have some form of progressive wages, said Mr Heng, detailing this budget’s support for lower-wage workers.
Currently, lower-wage workers benefit from the enhanced Workfare Income Supplement scheme, Workfare Skills Support scheme, the Progressive Wage Model and Workcare, said Mr Heng.
The tripartite workgroup formed in October 2020 to explore ways to uplift wages and prospects of lower-wage workers is “making good progress”, and the Ministry of Manpower will provide details on the expansion later, he added.
Older workers may also need more support, he added.
The budget allocation for the Senior Worker Early Adopter Grant and the Part-Time Re-employment Grant will be increased by more than S$200 million to support more companies to move earlier to raise their retirement and re-employment ages, announced Mr Heng.
Noting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s announcement in 2019 that the retirement age and re-employment age would be raised to 63 and 68 respectively in 2022, he added that the take-up rate for the two grants, introduced at last year’s Budget in February, have “exceeded expectations”.
The Government and the labour movement will be implementing the new retirement and re-employment ages one year earlier in 2021.
“I thank our businesses for supporting your employees who wish to work longer,” said Mr Heng.
CHALLENGES IN SECURING JOBS
People with disabilities may also face “greater challenges” in securing and retaining jobs, he added.
The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) announced on Jan 29 that together with SG Enable, it aims to create 1,200 job opportunities for people with disabilities in 2021.
These will include employment, traineeship and skills upgrading opportunities under three types of programmes.
“This builds on the various initiatives to boost employment for PWDs (persons with disabilities), such as the Open Door Programme, and the Enabling Employment Credit,” said Mr Heng.
To provide “holistic support” to more lower-income families, the budget provides resources for MSF to expand ComLink "significantly" to cover 14,000 families with children over the next two years, announced Mr Heng.
Introduced in 2019, ComLink currently supports about 1,000 families with children who stay in rental housing.
Adding that MSF has made “good progress”, Mr Heng said: “By mobilising community assets and galvanising local volunteering efforts, ComLink provides families with the tools and support to do better.
“MSF also ensures that ComLink is coordinated with other initiatives such as UPLIFT and KidSTART to provide families with seamless, holistic support.”
More details will be shared at MSF’s committee of supply debate.
CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
The third group the government needs to pay “special attention” to is children with special needs, said Mr Heng.
“Children under seven with developmental needs can benefit from a differentiated approach to help them learn better,” he added.
The Government will look into piloting an Inclusive Support Programme, he announced.
“This pilot integrates the provision of early intervention and early childhood services for children who require up to medium levels of early intervention support.
“Many of these children are already attending preschools, and this programme will allow them to be more meaningfully engaged alongside other children,” said Mr Heng, adding that this will benefit all children and help them develop social skills and social inclusion.
The Government will continue to identify and target groups who may need further support, including emerging groups of workers in more vulnerable areas, he added.
It will also continue to study ways to enhance job security and strengthen retirement adequacy for those who are self-employed, said Mr Heng.
“The Government is working with our unions and various agencies on these efforts, including outreach to more self-employed persons.”
COMMUNITY PARTNERS, CHARITIES, SOCIAL SERVICE AGENCIES
COVID-19 has affected Singaporeans in both tangible and intangible ways, said Mr Heng.
“While safe distancing measures, especially during our circuit breaker, have enabled us to keep the virus from spreading, they have also caused feelings of loneliness and isolation in some groups,” he added.
Community partners, charities and social service agencies have stepped up their support well, but the sector is facing new challenges, said Mr Heng.
While donations to certain platforms and for specific causes like the pandemic have risen, donations and income streams to many charities in general have fallen, he added.
“Some charities even had to dip into their reserves to keep operations going. This affects the help that goes to those who need it,” he said, encouraging individuals and companies to “do more” for the charity sector if possible.
S$20 million will be set aside for a new Change for Charity grant, Mr Heng announced.
“There is potential for businesses to do more to facilitate spontaneous acts of daily giving, for example, by encouraging their customers to make donations at the point of transaction,” he added.
This grant will match Community Chest donations raised through this initiative, and also co-funds one-off development costs needed to integrate or enhance donation functions on businesses’ payment platforms, said Mr Heng.
To encourage Singaporeans to give back to the community and support the sector in this time of crisis, the 250 per cent tax deduction for donations to Institutions of a Public Character will be extended for another two years until the end of 2023, he announced.
It was initially set to lapse at the end of 2021.
The additional government support for Tote Board’s Enhanced Fund-Raising Programme will also be extended by one year, he added.
This means that charities can apply to receive dollar-for-dollar matching on eligible donations, raised from projects in the financial year of 2021, up to a cap of S$250,000 per applicant. This also includes donations raised through approved digital platforms, said Mr Heng.
ComChest’s SHARE as One matching period will also be extended to the financial year of 2023, he announced.
The scheme provides dollar-for-dollar matching for new and additional donations through the SHARE programme, which allows companies, employees and individuals to commit to giving regularly, said Mr Heng.
The Government also seeks to encourage volunteerism, and businesses can play an “important role” in kickstarting their employees’ volunteering journey, said Mr Heng.
The Business and Institutions of a Public Character scheme will be extended for another two years until the end of 2023, he announced, encouraging businesses to partner with the institutions to make a bigger impact to “meet the diverse needs” of the community.
“Despite the stresses that Singaporeans face in this period, we continue to hear many heartwarming stories of our people stepping up to make a difference,” said Mr Heng, adding that he hopes these acts of kindness will inspire more people to come forward.
“Apart from national level efforts, efforts by the community, voluntary organisations, corporate partners and individuals, enable us to meet the diverse needs of different groups who need support, especially at the last-mile.”
To provide greater support for bottom-up, innovative initiatives that address the needs of the community, the Government will match three dollars for every dollar raised for the Community Development Councils’ Care and Innovation fund, announced Mr Heng.
S$50 million has been set aside for this matching grant, he added, and more details will be shared by the CDCs at a later date.
Editor's note: This story has been updated following clarification from the Ministry of Finance on when a tax deduction scheme was originally set to lapse.