Tag Archives: Singapore

Singapore’s Budget: Towards an Inclusive Society?

By ShuQi Liu

Following a watershed election last year that signalled public resentment towards a paternalistic state, the AWARE roundtable discussion conducted on 24 March 2012 sustained the political momentum with an honest discussion about this year’s Singapore Budget.

“We have not witnessed inclusive growth in the Singapore budget for a very long time,” says Yeoh Lam Keong, an economic and social policy commentator affiliated with the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Despite additional funding for a number of social programmes, panelists at the forum generally agreed that the government’s budget does not do enough to assist the most vulnerable elements of our society — children, elderly, the disabled and low-income families — particularly when it comes to education and health care.

8 Apr 2012 (1)

Health Care

The 2012 Budget signals an increase in healthcare spending from S$ 4 billion to S$ 8 billion over the next 5 years, an increase from 0.7 to 2.2 percent of GDP. But Yeoh notes that Singapore still lags behind other Asian Tigers – Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea — which commit approximately four percent of public spending to healthcare.

In fact, overall spending on social programmes is lower now than it was in the 1980s. While GDP has increased four times since the 1990s, public spending on social programmes has dropped from 20 to 16 percent of GDP.

These issues are particularly particularly pertinent as Singapore’s society ages. Medical expenses, especially for common long-term chronic ailments like hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol, can overwhelm individuals and families.

Increased spending on hospital beds alone will not produce better health outcomes adds Vivienne Wee, a founding member of AWARE. Singapore’s health care system needs to be reorganised, she argues, to better meet the needs of patients and the general population, rather than the demands of healthcare organisations.

Education

Rising inequality meanwhile is giving children from wealthy families a leg up at school, as early as Primary 1. P1 students are expected to be able to read and write upon enrollment, but students from low-income families generally score worse than their classmates. The problem: these children lack access to pre-school education.

NTU sociology professor Teoh You Yenn argues that the government should level the playing field by providing more funding for low-income families to send their children to preschool.

A government’s budget reflects a society’s understanding and value systems, argues Teoh, adding that people’s actions have the power to shape imaginations of the present and future. “What is pragmatically possible is not fixed independently of our imaginations, but is itself shaped by our visions,” Teoh says, quoting from “The Real Utopias Project“.

8 Apr 2012 (2)

Disabilities

“Maximising Potential, Embracing Differences” – that’s the theme of Singapore’s four-year “Enabling Masterplan” for integrating people with disabilities into mainstream society. But until activist Judy Wee stepped forward, the recommendation committee didn’t have any disabled representatives.

Wee argues that if Singapore is to be a truly inclusive society, we need to do a better job of providing people with disabilities with full access to public facilities, starting with our nation’s schools. Currently, only a select few educational institutions are equipped to teach disabled students.

“This would be an important step towards helping Singaporeans with disabilities realise their potential, while respecting the differences of all persons with disabilities,” Wee says, who also notes that data on the number of people with disabilities needs to be better documented and made publicly available.

Contributing to the discussion, hearing-impaired attendees from the Singapore Association for the Deaf, with the help of sign language interpreters from ExtraOrdinary Horizons, called on the government to provide more ‘resource teachers’ for deaf students in mainstream schools.

“We – like any other healthy human beings – have dreams and aspirations to fulfill,” says one SADeaf member.  “It is very hard to tell our children that you cannot be a doctor, lawyer or engineer, because you are deaf.  Unlike Singapore, the United States has deaf societies filled with hearing impaired professionals. This is a strong limiting factor.  And it’s very stifling for the members of the Singapore Association for the Deaf.”

Welfare and Social Services

Better implementation and less duplication is needed in the provision of social services, according to another member of the public participating in the discussion. The “Many Helping Hands” programme can result in cases where several social workers approach the same person with the intention to help. But they end up overwhelming the person instead.

Reflections

In my humble opinion, an inclusive society begins when the government has open dialogues with its citizens. When drafting the budget, our government should actively engage Singaporeans from all levels of society. It’s too late to make changes once the budget is announce in Parliament. A more consultative process, rather than the top-down approach, will be more effective in meeting the needs of all Singaporeans.

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“We’re Youth. We’re the upcoming Generation.”~ ACJC Stands Up

Students at Anglo Chinese Junior College have once again joined the global movement to Make Poverty History!

9 Nov 2011 (1)

ACJC’s Arts Council organised a two-day event to Stand Up and Take Action Against Poverty and the collective response from their classmates was:
“We feel it’s particularly important to Stand Up because we are Youths. We’re the upcoming generation and it’s important for us to instill the aim of eradicating poverty and of Stand Up in our generation.”

On 24-25 October, Arts Council members went around the school asking students why they felt it was necessary for them and others to stand up against poverty.  Students also set up a booth, which was prominently displayed at the school’s void deck, to raise awareness of the global poverty crisis.

Over 800 students participated. Many took photos with placards announcing why they are Standing Up.  Support for this movement has become a yearly tradition at the school since ACJC students first joined Stand Up in 2009.  This year, students were once again eager to show their support as they felt that the movement against poverty encapsulates many worthy causes.

“It’s great to know that so many of my fellow students are enthusiastic and supportive of the Stand Up movement,” says student organiser Yustynn Panicker, who adds that he was overwhelmed by the support of his peers.

A number of students requested that the the two-day event be extended so that even more of their classmates could speak out against poverty.  This is the third year running that ACJC students have joined the international Stand Up Take Action Against Poverty campaign.

“I love that our school is taking up such an important cause and I’m proud to Stand Up,” says Saira Roop, a student participant.

The ACJC Arts Council also sold ONE (SINGAPORE) Make Poverty History t-shirts and whitebands to raise funds for Care + Share, an organisation that provides milk to primary school students in Indian slums. The students raised S$ 424. ONE (SINGAPORE) is topping up the amount to S$800, which should purchase more than 4500 glasses of milk for the students.

ACJC Stand Ups for LOVE, the impoverished and more. . . . check out their photos!

“Yet Another Case of Illegal Deductions”

Should we care how foreign workers are treated in Singapore?

By Alex Au, TWC2 Treasurer

For months, Hafeez suffered in silence. His employer had deducted S$500 a month from his already pathetic wage of $22 a day working as a forklift driver and general labourer at a glass supply firm. Do a simple calculation: If he worked 30 days a month at $22 a day, he would have made only $660 a month. Deduct $500 from that and what’s left?

Yes, he had some overtime, for which he was paid $4 an hour, but it did not add up to much.

Knowing few others except some other labourers from Bangladesh and with only a rudimentary grasp of English, Hafeez did not know who or where to turn to for help. He didn’t even know what the law said about deductions.

And then his contract ended and his Work Permit was cancelled. The employer arranged for an air ticket home and told him to make his way to the airport on the assigned evening.

With 24 hours left in Singapore, he had one last chance to ask a question: Was it within his employer’s right to deduct that?

Did he have to go back to Bangladesh with nothing to show for his time in Singapore, nothing to feed his family with, nothing to help him pay off the debts he incurred to get the job in the first place? Like virtually all migrant workers in Singapore, he had to pay his recruiter upfront to get the job; about S$3,000 in his case.

How was he going to face his mother, wife, four daughters and a baby son who depended on him to survive? Wouldn’t unscrupulous debt collectors come after him once they hear he was back in the village?

* * * * *

And so on his penultimate evening in Singapore, with increasing desperation, he walked around Little India asking, of total strangers even, where he might get a little help. By sheer luck, someone pointed him to a restaurant that the Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) was using as a soup kitchen to feed migrants who were out of work, out of money, abandoned or abused by their employers. Hafeez was one of about 250 men streaming in that evening. All of them with similar stories. Hafeez’s was not the most unusual.

10 June 2011

But his was unusually urgent and so TWC2 volunteers swung into action, tired though they were from the endless flow of cases.

“We almost had to pull him off the plane,” a TWC2 volunteer told me. “He was that close to being sent home without getting what was due to him.”

The phrasing might have been a tad dramatic, but indeed, part of the action took place at the airport the next evening. But let’s not run ahead of the story.

Immediately the following day, a volunteer accompanied him to the Ministry of Manpower where they consulted an officer. Hafeez informed them that the employer had been deducting from his salary to make up these amounts, totalling $4,200:

  • $3,500 for medical expenses,
  • $340 for the airfare back to Bangladesh
  • $360 being $30 deducted per month x 12 months.

(I couldn’t understand from Hafeez’s very basic English exactly what the last item — $30 a month — was for.)

The ministry official agreed that these would be illegal deductions. So, at the airport that evening, when the company representative attempted to pay him only $158.55 in wages, being the purported final amount net of these deductions, Hafeez refused to take the money. He even tore up the receipt that he was asked to sign. If he had signed it, it would have been acknowledgment that the $158.55 was all he was owed and nothing more . . . READ ON

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Background on The Cuff Road Project

Coordinator Named ‘Woman of the Year’

Poverty No More’ – Episodes 5 & 6 – The Cuff Road Project

Migrant workers and The Cuff Road Project: Dialogue session

Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2)

TCRP Coordinator Named ‘Woman of the Year’

Debbie Fordyce, the coordinator of The Cuff Road Project, has been named International Woman of the Year by the American Women’s Association of Singapore.

After visiting with destitute migrant workers who were sleeping on footpaths in Little India two years ago, Debbie helped start The Cuff Road Project, which has since served more than 170,000 restaurant meals to jobless workers in safe clean environments where the men can eat with dignity.

Debbie works on a full-time volunteer basis, running the project and assisting participants with their cases, which often includes visits to the Ministry of Manpower, hospitals and the courthouse.

Here at ONE (SINGAPORE), we are extremely proud of Debbie! She works tirelessly to assist men who have come to Singapore to escape poverty in their home communities, but along the way have been scammed by employment agents, not paid due wages by their employers and suffered severe injuries.

4 Mar 2011

Debbie Fordyce, featured in a Lianhe Zaobao article

Additional Resources

Every ONE Can – March Proceeds and Photos

7 May 2010

Glenn Ong, Jean Danker, Vernetta Lopez and Lavinia Tan were just a few of the good folks who joined the team at FoodXervices for ONE (SINGAPORE)’s second Every ONE Can charity warehouse sale in March 2010 . . . this time in benefit of displaced Singaporeans.

The event generated food donations with a retail value of approximately S$8500. New Hope Community Services, which provides shelter and other services to homeless families and individuals, distributed the proceeds. NHCS also assisted Project Kyrie, which delivers food to people in need (among other projects). This was our second Every ONE Can warehouse sale and was held this time on a Sunday. Proceeds were not as great as the first time. Next time we’ll return the event to a Saturday afternoon, when there’s more foot traffic. Speaking of which, we’re targeting Saturday 16 October for the third installment.

Much thanks to FoodXervices and their great staff who came in to work extra hours to make this happen.
Thanks as well to our partners – the social enterprise Gift and Take as well as the Evercare Welfare Centre – who joined us. Gift and Take sells merchandise made by abused women in Singapore, landmine victims in Cambodia and low-income families across southeast Asia. The Evercare Welfare Centre is a dynamic grassroots organisation that provides crucial services to its community.

Take a look at some of the pictures on ONE (SINGAPORE)’s Flickr site and more pix here on Facebook.
Every ONE Can feeds a hungry person. Every ONE Can Stand Up and Make a Difference. Every ONE Can Make Poverty History!

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