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One common topic students should be familiar with is how Singapore handles Social Welfare. It will be a common essay question for GP or O-level English paper 1, as an oral exam topic or even Social Studies.
The following sections taken from DPM Tharman’s Interview at the 45th St Gallen Symposium gives some insights into the rationale for some of our policies. In particular, we will focus on just a small section mentioned by DPM, which is how we don’t have a safety net; instead we have a safety trampoline.
Understanding such perspectives will help support your arguments. More details will be covered during the respective GP Tuition or O-level English tuition sessions
Appended is a partial transcript from DPM Tharman’s interview:
Sackur (the interviwer): Another challenge you face is on the size of government. You’ve talked already with me about the investments made in housing for example. That’s going to increase and I know it is a huge part of the public budget. Education – British politicians in elections talk about our failing education and they say look at Singapore, and they cite your amazing exam records, numbers of skilled graduates and the way in which you scale up your people. So you invest huge amounts in education. If you look at the figures, your government is actually an advocate of massive state spending. That’s the way you run your country. Because you’ve got such a successful economy, you’ve managed to do it with budget surpluses until last year when you just fell into a deficit. I don’t know whether you are worried but looking forward, particularly if you mix demographics with the size of your government and the ambition of your government, you are going to run into real problems.
Tharman: I think we’re a very interesting case of a country that has low government spending, by the way, by most standards, as a percentage of GDP. Low taxes.
Sackur: As long as your GDP keeps climbing.
Tharman: Yes, but our starting point is not a bad one. We’ve got relatively low government spending and revenues, but we’re able to achieve the social outcomes that countries with much larger spending do. And how do we do it? I think one of the very important lessons of the last 50 years is that traditional concepts of welfare, social expenditure and government intervention have led to a weakening of private initiative and personal responsibility. Not because that was the intent. It was never the social democratic intent to weaken private initiative and family responsibility.
I mean, look at the Scandinavian countries. They used to be among the most hardworking countries in the world. The Swedes were incredibly hardworking, industrious people.
Sackur: You’re using the past tense, are you? The Swedes have become lazy? Or what’s happening?
Tharman: Present active tense. They’re a good society in many ways, and they’re willing to pay high taxes to keep their system going.
Sackur: Well, Swedes will get the chance to comment on this at a moment.
Tharman: But the point is, there are ways in which an active government can intervene to support social mobility, develop opportunities and take care of the old, which doesn’t undermine personal and family responsibility. And that’s the compact that we’re trying to achieve. And it’s almost a paradox.
Sackur: You mean you’re a bit more ruthless. Is that what you’re saying?
Tharman: No, we’re achieving a paradox of active government support for personal responsibility, rather than active government support to take over personal responsibility or community responsibility.
Sackur: Do you believe in the concept of a safety net?
Tharman: We believe in a concept of support for you taking up opportunities. So we don’t have unemployment.
Sackur: I believe in the sometimes simplicity of yes-or-no answers. What about this idea of a safety net? Does Singapore believe in the notion of a safety net for those who fall between the cracks of a successful economy?
Tharman: I believe in the notion of a trampoline.
Sackur: So people are just bouncing up and down in Singapore?
Tharman: No, it boils down to what policies you’re talking about. If you provide help for someone who is willing to study hard; if you provide help for someone who is willing to take up a job and work at it, and make life not so easy if you stay out of work; if you provide help for someone who wants to own a home – and we are very generous in our grants for home ownership, which is why we have 90 per cent home ownership and, among the low-income population, more than 80 per cent own their homes — it transforms culture.
It’s not just about transactions, it’s not just about the size of grants, it’s about keeping alive a culture where I feel proud that I own my home and I earn my own success through my job. I feel proud that I’m raising my family. And keeping that culture going is what keeps a society vibrant.
Consider how Singapore’s government does provide for its people but not in the way that other nations do. What does DPM Tharman mean by promoting and supporting “personal responsibility”? What examples are there to show that we enable people and at the same time not driving ourselves into fiscal trouble like some welfare states?
These points will be covered in relevant GP Tuition and O-level English tuition notes.
End of excerpt
For full video, please visit: An investigative interview: Singapore 50 years after independence – 45th St. Gallen Symposium
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