Singapore social health suffering in five areas: report

SINGAPORE, Singapore: People gather on a open field at the speakers corner to listen to people talk about immigration issues, in Singapore on February 16, 2013. The population white paper protest was attributed to a rise on civil and political participation, as other indicators lagged in a new social health report by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre. (AFP photo/Roslan Rahman)

Social health in Singapore is on the decline in five key domains: family, healthcare, housing and transport, income security and individual well-being.

This was according to the inaugural Singapore Social Health Report done by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) and released on Wednesday.

In the case of weakening family ties, NVPC cited a survey on social attitudes by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports that showed a 9 per cent decline from 2001 to 2009 in the number of Singaporeans agreeing to give money to family members in times of need.

In healthcare, it noted that public sector health facilities were overburdened and that C-class ward bills jumped at least 60 per cent from 2006 to 2010.

Inaccessibility of resale flats to the bottom fifth of youth home buyers and social exclusion of the poor due to high transport costs were cited for the negative housing and transport ratings, respectively.

NVPC also pointed that income security in Singapore has declined given that the lowest tenth of households saw wages – after taking inflation into account – fall last year.

Furthermore, it asserted that retirement adequacy was poor and that the “CPF alone is inadequate to meet the retirement needs of the majority of Singaporeans”.

A desire for work-life balance was in contrast with ground realities of long working hours – more than 2,200 hours last year – and low job engagement, with more than three-quarter of workers alleging job dissatisfaction, it noted. NVPC added that “high standards of living do not necessarily correspond with individual well-being and happiness”.

Laurence Lien, Nominated Member of Parliament and NVPC CEO, said, “Many issues require Singaporeans to re-examine our values, priorities and practices. It is undesirable for the government alone to tackle critical social issues. It is time we take action to measure what we care about. I urge the government to routinely publicise pertinent data items like most developed countries do.”

Positive trend in civil and political participation

Other domains such as culture and values, education, and social connectedness and community cohesion experienced neutral trends, according to NVPC in the report.

A “survivalist national mindset” and tuition lowering the ability of independent problem solving are balanced off with greater empathy among residents and nostalgia for lost heritage, the organisation said.

A positive trend was reported in civil and political participation. The report attributed this to an increase in volunteerism and charities. Greater diversity in Singapore’s parliament and growing interest in politics, especially among the youth, also contributed to the growing trend.

The report cited “ground-up activities” such as the population white paper protest and the “Save Bukit Brown” campaign as those that contributed to the positive trend. With the report, NVPC hopes to build a social health index to chart social progress in the country.

The nine domains were derived from social health measurements worldwide, focusing on the ones that were most relevant to Singapore. Qualitative and quantitative data such as suicide rates and life satisfaction levels respectively, were used.

Data sources include government data, international research reports and social media websites. The report emphasised that its analysis “is not an attempt to audit the performance of any particular ministry but is a means to track the pulse of the various socially relevant sectors in the country”

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