Rising cost of living, job security among youth’s top concerns for Budget 2023
Themes surrounding the Budget 2023 include navigating a complex world, and strengthening social compact.
Rising cost of living has been a key concern among youths in Singapore, in light of inflation surging worldwide as well as the increase of the Goods and Service Tax to 8 per cent.
It is a topic that will be addressed during Budget 2023 on Feb 14. But what are other key areas that youths hope will be addressed in the statement?
As part of the Forward Singapore exercise, the National Youth Council (NYC), in partnership with the Global Shapers Community (Singapore Hub), organised the National Youth Dialogue on Budget 2023 on Wednesday (Jan 18) to better understand the concerns among youths.
During the dialogue, 117 youth participants shared their concerns over the rising costs of living as well as finding jobs amid retrenchment rates.
The dialogue was led by a panel comprising Senior Minister of State for Finance and Transport Chee Hong Tat and Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth & Trade and Industry Alvin Tan.
Participants underwent two forms of voting exercises – traditional and quadratic voting – to decide which issue they felt strongly for, such as the increased cost of living or job security. Split into 10 groups, they shared their views and perspectives on different issues upon casting their votes.
With quadratic voting, participants were given a set of credits and were allowed to vote across multiple issues. This also prevents a “winner takes all” situation.
Before the dialogue commenced, Mr Chee was asked by a participant on whether similar exercises were done with other parts of the population.
Answering yes, he added: “…we also want to hear from the people who are your parents and your grandparents’ age, other segments of society… we all have different perspectives. What we consider as important very often may or may not be exactly the same as what other people in society even consider.”
Here are some takeaways from the dialogue:
1. Youths are custodians of their own future
Concerns about the rising cost of living were raised, with one group citing an example of how the price of chicken rice at a school rose from $2.00 to $2.30.
While it garnered some laughs, the group further elaborated that the “12 per cent increase” would have a bigger impact when concerning larger amounts, such as when it comes to buying a car or a house.
In response, Mr Chee acknowledged the importance of all the issues the participants voted on, but emphasised the need to prioritise which one to address first.
“If we have infinite resources, infinite amounts of money, time, people, we can do everything. But we don’t. So you will pick and choose.
“There are trade-offs, and the trade-offs also involve a time dimension,” Mr Chee pointed out, in relation to how fast Singaporeans would feel the effects of certain issues.
Issues such as the rising cost of chicken rice would have an immediate effect while others such as climate change won’t be felt next year or the year after, he illustrated.
Mr Chee related this to the sacrifices that Singapore’s forefathers made, such as how they didn’t spend the money they had, but instead put it aside and saved it.
He then referred to Singapore’s reserves and how it can be used to fund the annual budget as well as “some of the large expenditures that we (Singapore) need”.
“… we are custodians. And we don’t just think of this generation here and now. We have a future generation to think about. How do we create a better future for our children or grandchildren?” he added.
In this vein, Mr Tan pointed to one of the six pillars of the Forward SG exercise: Stewardship.
He highlighted how as youths who are going to “take Singapore forward”, it is important to realise that Singapore has finite resources and how to manage them. This includes growing resources, making decisions on how to spend them, and allocating them in the most efficient way possible.
2. The Government will continue to cushion the impact of rising cost of living
One participant, Ethan Wong, asked panellists on how the Government intends to cushion the impact of price hikes, given the rising costs in everyday items.
The 15-year-old Anglo Chinese School (Independent) student also cited “current circumstances” such as the Russian-Ukraine war.
“Actually if you think about it, there’s no way to buffer cost of living increases which are coming from external (circumstances),” explained Mr Chee, who added that as Singapore imports a lot of essential supplies, food and energy, prices have shot up due to the conflict in Ukraine.
To tackle this, Mr Chee shared that the Government uses redistribution – pooling together revenue generated from taxation and returns on reserves.
Mr Chee added that the Government would first spend on aspects such as healthcare, education and defence before considering how to redistribute the excess to help those of middle and lower income cushion against the increased cost of living.
While rising prices are an “immediate pain felt by all”, the help must be tilted more towards those of lower and middle income so they may “get a bigger share”, said Mr Chee.
3. Economic growth will reap benefits for all
Responding to participants’ suggestions on business innovations, Mr Chee used an analogy of splitting a pie to illustrate how such innovations can help with economic growth.
“It’s not because we are chasing GDP or we are money faced… if there is growth, you make the pie larger… And as we share (the pie) amongst the different segments, I can give everyone a large slice,” he explained.
The lack of economic growth could in turn cause current and future generations to fight over “who gets a bigger slice,” Mr Chee shared. However, he also recognised that such an issue would be difficult for people to reach a consensus.
Adding on this, Mr Chee also cited how economic growth helps with productivity and skills upgrading.
“And just really what SkillsFuture is about, this culture of lifelong learning. Focusing on making Singapore an attractive place to do business, to attract investments, and prepare workers to take on those jobs that are being created, whether the hospitality, in manufacturing, ITE and so on,” he said.
4. Upskilling is essential to remain ‘nimble’ in the industry
Some participants also expressed their concerns on job security and upskilling. In addition, they were curious about the effectiveness of SkillsFuture.
Mr Tan pointed out how when he was tasked with handling the tourism sector, it was “the worst hit” as the borders were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During that downturn, we did not just sit on our hands,” he said, citing examples of training the hotel industry and how they can make use of technology.
He elaborated on how this helped maximise the effectiveness of hotel resources and staff, such as for those cleaning rooms or performing concierge duties.
He shared about how the tourism industry is expected to have a full recovery soon, and highlighted several large-scale events such as SailGP and the Olympic E-Sports week.
“And we are constantly looking at where we can add value in this. So that you have those jobs, creating those jobs, then going into a little bit of the SkillsFuture… you do need those skills,” he explained.
He recognised that while some participants are currently studying, their “education could only take them this far”.
Mr Tan added that through SkillsFuture, industries will work with companies and unions to provide on-the-job training.
Learners can then upskill themselves further and not be limited to what they learnt from academic institutions, he said.
“The more that you learn, the more valuable (you are)…you can be quite nimble across industries or within the industry.”
For more content about Forward SG and how youths can participate, click here.