Budget 2024 debate: Pritam urges concrete steps to tackle widening gap between Singaporeans' aspirations and reality

Budget 2024 debate: Pritam urges concrete steps to tackle widening gap between Singaporeans' aspirations and reality
Singh proposed a SkillsFuture interest-free loan to help to address the gap between Singaporeans' aspirations and reality.
PHOTO: Screengrab/YouTube/Ministry of Communication and Information

Workers' Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh has urged the government to address the gap between Singaporeans' aspirations and reality with regards to Budget 2024.

Speaking during the Budget 2024 debate on Monday (Feb 26), Leader of the Opposition?Singh raised several points regarding this year's budget.

One was the growing mismatch between Singaporeans' aspirations and their reality.

He pointed out how?the Forward Singapore report, which was released in October last year, called on Singaporeans to broaden their definition of success beyond the Singapore dream of the past: the 5Cs.

The 5Cs refer to cash, car, condominium,?credit card and country card membership.

"Surely that is an admission, perhaps unintended, that a fair number of the 5Cs are unattainable for most Singaporeans today," Singh said.

"But I would go further. The reality is that things are very difficult for not a small number of Singaporeans regardless what definition of success one deploys."?

Referencing findings of a survey conducted in 2023 by OCBC, Singh said that 23 per cent of Singaporeans can only afford their basic needs.

Additionally, 79 per cent do not have a retirement plan or are not on track with their retirement plan.

Steps, he said, must be taken to address the widening gap between what Singaporeans aspire toward and the reality they face.

'Courses are likely to cost more than $4,000'

Referring to the $4,000 SkillsFuture credit top-up for Singaporeans aged 40 and above, Singh said that the government's moves to invest more in the future are important and critical, but more can be done.

"Though the party [WP] sees the deployment of SkillsFuture credits as an important policy in this budget, we believe that many of the courses are likely to cost more than $4,000," Singh said.

He proposed a SkillsFuture interest-free loan to help to address this issue.

"To start with, these loans can be calibrated towards courses in either high growth industries that lack Singaporean manpower, or other economically important areas," Singh said, pointing out that this proposal was part of the party's manifesto for the 2020 General Elections.

Singh also called for employers, as well as the government, to support and protect low-income, blue-collar workers.

"If Singapore really wishes to embrace the philosophy of forward Singapore, then we need to show stronger support for our financially vulnerable workers," he said.

Singh added that as a next step, the government should legislate retrenchment benefits or introduce redundancy insurance for low-income workers.

He said that he will speak more about this during the Committee of Supply debate for the Ministry of Manpower next week.

Reconsider retirement policy

Singh also expressed the need for the government to reconsider the retirement policy in Singapore.

Budget 2024 included top-ups to the Central Provident Fund (CPF) accounts of Singaporeans of multiple age groups as part of the Majulah Package.

"From the vantage point of the Workers' Party, these moves make it clear that sufficiency of CPF balances for retirement is a serious and ongoing concern," Singh said.

"It is time to closely examine how much CPF money should be set aside for housing [as opposed to retirement]," he added.

Singh had?highlighted the importance of retirement adequacy during last year's budget debates.

Transparency regarding Singapore's finances

Singh also pointed out the need for transparency on the part of the government regarding Singapore's financial state to encourage "mature conversations".

He referenced a report by The Straits Times in which economists expressed concern over giving large cash handouts to Singaporeans without any information about the sources of Singapore's fiscal strength.

"As a society, we now have some very important choices to make - and unless we are well informed, we will not be able to make those choices well," Singh said, quoting the report.

ALSO READ:?Budget 2023 debate: Redistributing wealth is a must to avoid emergence of 'two Singapores', says Pritam

bhavya.rawat@asiaone.com

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