SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong unveiled plans to upgrade and redevelop Singapore’s public housing, and measures to help Singaporeans manage healthcare costs in the National Day Rally on Sunday evening (Aug 19).
In addition to addressing the cost of living, Mr Lee devoted a large part of his speech to housing concerns and revealed two major schemes to renew Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats.
He also announced major changes to healthcare financing: A new healthcare subsidy package for Singaporeans born in the 1950s and the expansion of the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS).
Here are 8 key takeaways from the rally:
1. VOLUNTARY EARLY REDEVELOPMENT SCHEME
Addressing Singaporeans’ concerns about the 99-year leases of HDB flats running out in a few decades’ time, Mr Lee announced a new scheme to redevelop HDB flats, that will be implemented in about 20 years’ time.
The Government plans to start redeveloping older housing estates and will begin doing so when the flats are about 70 years old, Mr Lee said.
This will be done progressively over a period of 20 to 30 years so that old towns can be rejuvenated in an "orderly way".
Under the Voluntary Early Redevelopment Scheme (VERS), residents in a precinct will have to vote to allow authorities to take back the flats. Those who do so will receive compensation, but this will be less generous than under the Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS).
Mr Lee also explained at length the reasons why HDB flat leases should not extend beyond 99 years.
2. HOME IMPROVEMENT PROGRAMME
More HDB flats will be upgraded as the Government expands the Home Improvement Programme (HIP) to homes built from 1987 to 1997. The programme originally covered flats built in the years up to 1986.
Another 230,000 flats will benefit, including in estates like Pasir Ris, Yishun, Tampines and Jurong, Mr Lee said.
HDB will also be upgrading older flats a second time at around the 60- to 70-year mark under a HIP II scheme, which will start in 10 years’ time.
3. MERDEKA GENERATION PACKAGE
The Government will work out a Merdeka Generation Package which will help Singaporeans born in the 1950s with healthcare costs.
The package will cover outpatient subsidies, Medisave top-ups, MediShield Life premium subsidies and payouts for long-term care for about 500,000 Singaporeans.
The benefits will not be as extensive as those for the pioneer generation, who benefitted from the Pioneer Generation Package launched four years ago, Mr Lee said.
The Merdeka package will help to relieve some of the healthcare worries of Singaporeans now in their 60s, he added.
4. MORE HEALTHCARE BENEFITS
Medical subsidy programme CHAS will be extended to all Singaporeans with chronic conditions regardless of income, Mr Lee announced. However, the benefits will continue to be tiered according to income.
The scheme currently provides subsidies to those in the pioneer generation, lower- and middle-income households for outpatient medical and dental care.
The Ministry of Health will announce details of the changes later.
5. MORE POLYCLINICS
More polyclinics will be built in Sembawang, Eunos, Kallang and Bukit Panjang by 2020; and in Tampines North and Nee Soon Central by 2023.
“Some of these are to upgrade and improve existing ones, but we will make sure that there are affordable, accessible, high-quality primary healthcare services all over Singapore,” Mr Lee promised.
6. GEYLANG SERAI
Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman has been appointed to lead a project to make Geylang Serai a culturally distinctive precinct.
This includes the area stretching from the Tanjong Katong Complex to Kampong Ubi Community Centre.
Dr Maliki will engage the Malay community and other Singaporeans to solicit ideas and make recommendations to the Government, Mr Lee said in his Malay speech.
7. COST OF LIVING
The Government will ensure that the major costs of living – HDB housing, healthcare and education are affordable, Mr Lee said in his Mandarin speech.
It is also helping to manage the cost of living by building more hawker centres.
He pointed out that lifestyle changes, such as the prevalence of smartphones, eating out and a higher quality of life in general have contributed to cost of living pressures.
“While the Government will do its part to alleviate people’s cost of living concerns, each of us also has a responsibility to 'look after our own wallets' – save water, save electricity and at the same time, shop around for the best prices and be a smart consumer," he said.
8. HAWKER CULTURE
Singapore will nominate the island’s hawker culture for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) list of intangible cultural heritage.
Mr Lee called hawker centres Singaporeans' "community dining rooms" and hawker food their "best cure for homesickness" in his address.
"The UNESCO inscription will help to safeguard and promote this unique culture for future generations," he said.