Supporting the vulnerable is a collective responsibility by individuals, families and the community
Around 80 participants were invited to share their concerns on social issues as well as their aspirations on the future of social policies at the fourth instalment of the National Youth Dialogue.
Singapore faces challenges like an ageing population, shrinking family sizes, the risk of slowing social mobility and rising inequality.
To ensure the less well-off have what they need and that everyone has a path to a better future, everyone – from our family members, to the community and the Government – will need to contribute.
A dialogue on supporting the vulnerable and how Singapore can refresh its social compact by empowering families and individuals was held on Sunday (Nov 6), in support of the Forward Singapore Care Pillar.
The engagement, the fourth instalment of the National Youth Dialogue, was a multi-agency effort from the Ministry of Health (MOH), the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and is co-organised by the National Youth Council (NYC), Global Shapers Singapore Community and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Students’ Union, which is part of the Inter-University Network.
The panel consisted of Minister for Health Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Indranee Rajah.
Around 80 participants were invited to share their concerns on social issues as well as their aspirations on the future of social policies.
They were split into six different breakout rooms, where Groups One and Two talked about Health, Groups Three and Four talked about Social Mobility and Groups Five and Six talked about Family. Thereafter, the groups reconvened to share their gatherings and questions during the large group shareback with the ministers.
These are some takeaways from the three-hour long session:
1. There needs to be better integration among the various Government agencies, private and public sectors
Across the three topics, Mr Ong, Mr Masagos and Ms Indranee all agreed that more can be done on the Government’s part to better coordinate the efforts to help the various communities.
Mr Masagos said: “All of us in the Ministry of Education, in the Ministry of Health, in the Ministry of (Social and Family Development) have got things that we want to do for the family. So all of us heap things on the family and in the end, the family gets overwhelmed.
“We are more concerned by how many families we’re going to outreach, what are the outcomes for the families, rather than what the family needs and wants.”
He shared that the Government recently launched a pilot programme to tackle this issue where volunteers get to meet these low-income families living in rental flats with children and talk to them to better understand their needs and priorities.
Through that process, the volunteers can then liaise with the Government agencies on how they can better help the families.
Mr Masagos also highlighted the importance of going upstream, being proactive and having scalable and sustainable action plans.
He suggested moving from individuals to families and “focusing on family as a pivot rather than trying to solve every individual problem in the family”.
2. Building trust and befriending the vulnerable is the first step to helping them
Building on the previous point, Mr Masagos emphasised that such coordination can take place once we’ve earned the trust of these families.
He said: “Once you befriend the family, once you understand the family, you can journey with the family.
“We hope that through this trust building programme between volunteers and the families we can do far better in the last mile delivery.”
Unfortunately, many a time the reason why the less fortunate struggle is not due to the lack of support, but rather because they’re unaware of the policies and schemes available that can allay their financial burden.
He shared an example of how many families in rental flats don’t know that they only need to pay $3 to send their children to preschool. As a result, their children don’t receive a proper education because the parents think they’re unable to afford it.
“Some of them get into very difficult situations which could have been solved if they went upstream and got the right advice and did the right thing,” he said.
To tackle this, he suggested for “bite-sized information” to be shared with the vulnerable, not through digitalisation or pamphlets, but “befriending, building trust and getting people to open up about their needs”.
However, this responsibility doesn’t just lie with Government agencies but also with individuals and organisations part of the people and private sectors.
He emphasised the need for Singapore to change the social compact to solve such issues for the long term. Helping out in superficial ways only solves “the poverty in (our) hearts”.
“Many of us give what we think is charity to solve what we think is the problem.”
He cited the issue of corporations thinking that by simply donating money, they’re done with their corporate social responsibility.
“In reality, there are many more things within these corporations that will be far more impactful than just giving money,” he shared.
3. Taxing only the rich isn’t a viable option to solve inequality
On the topic of social mobility, participants discussed what are the different key enablers and the basic levels of support we as a society should be providing to help the less fortunate climb the social ladder and achieve their potential.
Some asked what are some sacrifices the top will have to make to ensure social mobility.
One participant suggested for the Government to adopt the wealth tax system, similar to countries like Norway and Switzerland.
However, Mr Ong noted that “taxing the rich isn’t a viable option”.
While he did acknowledge that income transfer is one of the levellers to solving inequality, he raised the issue of defining who falls under the category of the wealthy and that even if we do manage to distinguish the top one per cent as the ones who should be taxed, they can easily “pack up and leave” should they be taxed hard enough.
“In the end the best tax is where everyone pays. Don’t compare who’s top, who’s bottom. We all do our part.
“After we pay, the Government gets the revenue then we spend it on people who need it.”
“That work is greatly empowered if in the course of social spending, we spend it on very high quality and accessible public service. If we don’t have a good education system, and don’t have a good healthcare system, there is no chance for the poor to do well,” said Mr Ong.
Mr Masagos added that “wealth is best transferred through generosity” and it is not something the Government wants to force out of people.
4. Employers need to be more facilitative for young couples to have the support and assurance to start a family
The problem of work-life balance was constantly brought up as the main cause that impedes the desire for young couples to start a family.
The question posed by the participants was how the Government can provide more support on ensuring good work-life balance for families and at the same time, strengthen the social structure to give Singaporeans the reassurance they need to start a family.
In response, Ms Indranee clarified that working from home is a subset of flexible work arrangements and that there are many other ways parents can consider to still care for their children whilst handling their work responsibilities.
She said: “The key is because different sectors work differently, the employers have to be onboard.
“You can’t do flexible work arrangements effectively if your HR department is not behind this, if the bosses are not behind this and also if you don’t redesign your work or your HR practices. Because if somebody is going to take time off, somebody will have to replace (them).”
According to Ms Indranee, there’s a mounting need for Singaporeans to start families as by 2030, 25 per cent of Singapore citizens will be aged 65 and above. While society can take care of the ageing population, the problem comes when there’s nobody to replace them.
“What we don’t want to end up with is an inverted triangle where you have a lot of elderly at the top and a small base of young people who will then have to pay higher and higher taxes to support the (ageing population). So ideally we need to have more babies.”
With regards to the decreasing birth rates, she also said that while we can boost our current population by having more foreigners, it’d still be ideal for us to have a “truly Singaporean population”.
“We’re happy to welcome those who joined the Singapore family but the Singapore family itself must grow.”
For more content about Forward SG and how youths can participate, click here.