Government not ideologically opposed to any proposals to improve social safety: PM Lee Hsien Loong

PM Lee delivering a speech on General Election 2020 on 23 June 2020. (Photo: Ministry of Communications and Information)
PM Lee delivering a speech on General Election 2020 on 23 June 2020. (Photo: Ministry of Communications and Information)

SINGAPORE — The government is not ideologically opposed to any proposals to improve social safety, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday (2 September).

But the impact of any ideas have to be carefully assessed so that new problems are not created in the process, he said in Parliament.

Speaking during the debate on the President’s Address, Lee said that Singapore has to start thinking about the level of social support to have once the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

“In the new normal, we fully expect more economic uncertainty and turbulence,” he said.

Noting that the longer trends of an ageing population and rising healthcare costs will remain, he said social support for Singaporeans during and after their working lives will need to be strengthened.

Several ideas have been raised in the House, he noted, adding that the government’s approach has always been “pragmatic and empirical”.

“Make the best use of our resources to meet the needs of different groups in our society, in a targeted manner. Because if we help everyone equally, then we are not giving more help to those who need it most,” he said.

On the suggestion of unemployment insurance, Lee said such a solution can offer older workers “transient relief, at best”.

“But retraining and upskilling older workers will enable employers to continue finding value in them, and to be less likely to make them redundant. And if the older worker does get retrenched, with these skills, he or she can find a new job more readily,” he said.

“This is a structural solution that helps older workers get their careers back on track and feel that he’s making a worthwhile contribution. The best unemployment insurance is in fact the assurance of another job,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Workfare Income Supplement and the Progressive Wage Model have made a material difference to the lives of low-wage workers.

But more will need to be done after the pandemic has settled, Lee said.

“We must keep an open mind, as we build and improve on the systems we have, and consider solutions that can work in our context.

“It is not just floating ideas like minimum wage or unemployment insurance, but assessing their impact carefully. Who wins and who loses within the workforce? How will our SMEs or the public be affected?

“We must identify pragmatic solutions which will make a real and sustainable difference, and give people justified assurance that when they need help, they will get the help that is relevant to them. And it must not create new problems in the process, for example by eroding our spirit of self-reliance.”

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