SINGAPORE: Social support is “not just about giving handouts”, but giving people “a leg up”, said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong on Wednesday (Feb 28). 

In his closing speech for the Budget debate, Mr Wong stressed that Singapore is spending more on social support in this Budget and that a substantial portion is spent on structural schemes, not temporary measures. 

Some Members of Parliament (MPs) would like the government to do even more, but other members have cautioned the government to proceed carefully, to avoid breeding a sense of entitlement, dependency or undermining individual responsibility and self-reliance, he added. 

“We are very careful about getting this balance right. We have not changed our ethos of social support. It is not just about giving handouts, but it’s about giving people a leg up,” said Mr Wong.

The ComLink+ and SkillsFuture Level-Up programmes have been designed so as not to erode personal and family responsibility, he added. 

Under ComLink+, lower-income families can receive financial top-ups when they make progress on long-term goals, working with family coaches. There are four packages, each geared towards preschool education, sustained employment, financial stability and saving for home ownership.

The preschool education package will be the first to be implemented in the second half of 2024, and the other three will be launched from 2025.

With the new SkillsFuture Level Up Programme announced by Mr Wong on Feb 16, Singaporeans aged 40 and above will receive an additional S$4,000 in SkillsFuture credit. Younger Singaporeans will receive the same amount when they turn 40.

This top-up can only be used for selected training courses, including part-time and full-time diploma, post-diploma and undergraduate programmes, as well as courses in the Progressive Wage Model sectors.

“We catch Singaporeans when they fall and we make sure they do not fall behind. We invest in them and we provide them support to bounce back from life’s setbacks and do even better for themselves,” said Mr Wong. 

He noted that lower-income groups in Singapore have progressed faster than others. 

Real incomes of the bottom 20 per cent increased slightly faster than the middle-income, and twice as fast as the top 20 per cent, said the Deputy Prime Minister, noting that this does not take into consideration Singapore’s tax system that “favours the lower income”. 

“We will not stop here. We will continue to work hard to keep on improving,” he added. 

“We learn from other countries and we are open to all ideas – from MPs, researchers and community advocates. That is the spirit of Forward Singapore. We will consult widely and make bold and effective changes to take Singapore forward.”

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