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Access to public housing needs to be prioritised due to large demand and land constraints: Lawrence Wong

Access to public housing needs to be prioritised due to large demand and land constraints: Lawrence Wong

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong speaking at CNA's Youth Forum. (Photo: CNA/Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: Access to public housing in Singapore needs to be prioritised due to large demand and land constraints, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong told a youth forum organised by CNA.

He was responding to a question on making public housing more accessible to those in their 20s and 30s.

“I can completely understand the desire for young people to want to move out (and) live on their own but the challenge is this: if you have more and more households fragmenting - that means people moving out to live on their own - we just will not have enough land to accommodate everyone's needs,” said Mr Wong, who is also Finance Minister.

“Even today, without talking about the demand from singles in their 20s and early 30s ... We are already unable to meet the demand.”

“Young couples are still having to wait; seniors who need elderly flats when they want to retire (are) unable to get their flats; and then those who are singles (and) above 35 who are eligible, apply (but) still have a long queue,” he added.

“Not to mention that we still have to look around and see whether there is sufficient land to build new flats. So this is our conundrum.”

Earlier in November, National Development Minister Desmond Lee said Singapore was studying ideas and looking at how to further prioritise access to public housing for those with more pressing housing needs, even within the first-timer group.

Mr Lee noted that while most people agreed that priority should be given to first-timers with children or those from lower income households, some had pointed out that the needs of seniors and singles should also be considered.

During Friday's forum, excerpts of which are being broadcast on video, one participant raised the issue of young couples who may not be able to live near their parents due to land constraints in mature estates.

Mr Wong said the Government was studying this issue and how to address it effectively.

“We will never be able to provide as much of a guarantee in a mature estate that's already very built up. But potentially, there will be some areas where (even though considered mature estates) we may be able to open up new tracts of land for development potentially,” he said.

“In such areas, maybe there will be more opportunities for new flats to be built and then for young couples to be able to access these flats as well.”

CUSHIONING IMPACT OF GST HIKE

Turning to concerns about an impending goods and services tax (GST) hike which will kick in next year, Mr Wong said the Government was studying what more it could do to defer the impact on households. 

GST will increase from 7 per cent to 8 per cent from Jan 1, 2023 and from 8 per cent to 9 per cent from Jan 1, 2024. 

The Government has said that this was to increase revenues to meet Singapore's growing healthcare expenditure, as the population continues to age. 

To help offset additional GST expenses for most Singaporean households for at least five years, it has put together a S$8 billion support package

This comprises cash payouts, Community Development Council (CDC) vouchers, additional GST Voucher–U-Save and MediSave top-ups, which will be disbursed over five years starting next month.

"Most Singaporeans will not feel the impact of the GST increase for at least 5 years, which is why that should not be an immediate cause for concern in the immediate term," said Mr Wong. 

"But there are other factors that contribute to higher prices - energy, food and these are the reasons and that those are the things that we will try very much to cushion."

"We are studying what more we can do next year," he said. "Our assurance is, we will help everyone through these challenges with regards to the cost of living."

ON HUSTLE CULTURE

The wide-ranging discussion also saw participants ask if “hustle culture” - the mentality that one must work tirelessly in pursuit of their professional development - was necessary to deal with rising costs of living.

In response, Mr Wong said the Government was looking at how to help Singaporeans realise their full potential.

“We all have our different strengths and we should understand what our strengths are,” he said.

“We will want to have in Singapore, the ability to encourage and to help everyone realise their full potential based on their strengths (and) to have multiple pathways where people can achieve success in different areas without that sense of having to compare with one another and that sense of (having) to conform,” he said.

“So that's something we will try very much to work on and hopefully, that will reduce some of the stress and the feeling of being in a rat race as well.”

Source: CNA/vl(jo)

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