At ‘Our Two Cents’, youths shared their concerns and suggestions on national issues for Budget 2021.
The annual Singapore Budget is a topic that might seem like a distant idea for most youths. Yet, in the face of COVID-19, it has shown us the importance of our youth voices and the role of the budget in shaping the future of Singapore’s policies to ensure our stability.
Youths had their say for Budget 2021 during Our Two Cents, a pre-budget engagement session discussing national issues on January 13.
Hosted by Joel Lim and Germaine Tan, the session was graced by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Finance and National Development, Ms Indranee Rajah and Minister of State for the Ministry of Community, Culture and Youth and Ministry of Trade and Industry, Mr Alvin Tan.
Our Two Cents is part of the Emerging Stronger Conversations series and was organised by the National Youth Council Singapore (NYC), in partnership with the Ministry of Finance (MOF).
Here were some key points highlighted during the session.
The session began with the introduction of the five main themes of Budget 2021 which are centered around helping Singapore emerge stronger amidst the new normal.
The themes are: Smart Nation adoption, economic resilience, workforce stability, protecting vulnerable groups in the society and building a sustainable future.
In his opening address, Mr Tan praised the spirit of togetherness exemplified by youths who had given back to the community during COVID-19. He also shared key findings from a survey by NYC on youth concerns.
According to Mr Tan, the three areas that youths wanted the government to focus on include building economic resilience and sustainability, strengthening the workforce and showing better support to vulnerable groups affected by the pandemic.
With increased youth sensitivity towards the current economic climate and recognising the need for progressive recovery, most respondents indicated they were comfortable with welcoming travellers visiting due to business, diplomatic or leisure reasons.
There were also respondents who were unsure if their views will be heard on national issues, which Mr Tan assured participants that all views will be heard to ensure policies are aligned to youth concerns and priorities.
During the first hour of the session, participants were assigned to breakout rooms and voted on issues through a credit-based quadratic voting system.
Starting the discussion on adapting Singapore into a Smart Nation, one participant shared her hopes for better ways to involve industries and academia in co-developing the industry so as to reap greater benefits and reduce costs.
Another participant raised his concerns over a potential bubble created among students with the focus on Smart Nation initiatives.
“I’m concerned about the hype surrounding A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) and Industry 4.0 causing a spike in demand for related university courses. I’m worried that it might create a bubble where people are going after the hype without having a passion,” he said.
He suggested a greater focus on skills matching instead to ensure undergraduates have a better understanding of the workforce before the end of their education journey.
Youths also shared their views on policies regarding social welfare and bridging the gap between the general population and the vulnerable.
One participant raised the need for a concerted healthcare system to better support ageing in place.
With changing demographics in Singapore, she hoped for an improved distribution of amenities across the island to encompass the ageing process regardless of age, income or mobility levels.
The COVID-19 situation has created an uncertain future, taking a toll on the psychological and mental well-being of workers as businesses struggle to survive.
“With Singapore lacking in natural resources, we innovate or die; We have to constantly keep up with trends. While the focus of growth and survival is important, the [mental health of workers] should be prioritised to take care of their emotional and mental wellbeing needs,” he said.
He highlighted the need to improve access to mental health resources for workers and hoped more can be done to destigmatize the views on mental health among older generations.
On an industrial level, a participant disagreed that climate change should be a priority in the current COVID-19 situation where the industry is still recovering. He felt that it would be counterproductive to aim to reduce pollution when mask production is in demand.
On the other hand, youths felt that current climate change efforts are “mitigative” and more can be done to instill a culture of being environmentally friendly among consumers.
“I think it should be trained since young – not just with a heavy focus on education in school but also in the way we conduct ourselves in our daily lives,” a participant said, highlighting the recycling efforts in Taiwan where citizens proactively manage their waste daily.
“I think the onus is also on the government to incentivise the idea of recycling and living a sustainable lifestyle,” echoed another participant who brought up grassroot efforts such as the Reverse Vending Machine where rewards are distributed for recycling.
By creating a culture of being environmentally friendly, the youths are optimistic that change from within can be a long-term solution in tackling climate change for the future.
At the second hour of the event, group votes were held in the main session. Across all seven groups, the focus area on supporting the vulnerable and ensuring a safe reopening were the top concerns most among youths respectively.
In her closing remarks, Ms Indranee highlighted the common consensus among participants that showed how everybody cared for each other, with one example being the support prioritised to help vulnerable groups.
With topics on job creation and employment ranking lower than the top results, Ms Indranee said: “This is a good example of how the MOF and the government work to get through the various trade offs. Because in truth, all of these [topics] are linked and they are not either or.”
An example is through the Jobs Support Scheme, where the monetary payoffs helped workers to not only retain their jobs but also ensure that their financial worries are taken care of.
Emphasing the need for a well-rounded approach, Ms Indranee said: “Our takeaway should be that we should pay attention to all parts of [these topics] and ensure that we as a nation have enough to support each and every one of these initiatives.
“If we only ensure that things are safe and within the status quo, without looking at new and emerging areas, then we would lose out on opportunities and the economy wouldn’t do well enough to help the vulnerable.”
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