A Petir Online exclusive
As inequality rises around the world, even boiling over into crisis in many countries, how will Singapore swim against the tide? How will the People’s Action Party government continue to build a society where everyone progresses together?
In June 2020, Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies Tharman Shanmugaratnam spoke to Singaporeans about this.
SM Tharman did not mince his words about what has happened in many countries. He said it was a “profound social crisis” many years in the making and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. He promised Singaporeans that Singapore would “absolutely defy the loss of social cohesion, the polarisation, and the despair that is taking hold in many other countries.”
He laid out three ways for the PAP government to do this. “First, we will ensure everyone has full opportunity to do well for themselves, through education, skills, and good jobs. Second, we will boost support for those who start life at a disadvantage, so that we keep social mobility alive in Singapore, and lessen inequalities over time. And third, we must all play a role to strengthen our culture of solidarity, so we know we have each other to depend on, in good times and bad. “
He said that despite a global economic slowdown, Singapore was working to save jobs. As the changes in the workplace had been fast-forwarded by COVID-19, Singapore would help every Singaporean worker who needs it to reskill and upskill. In both these efforts, more support is being given to middle-aged and mature workers.
To give every child an equal starting point, the PAP government is investing much more in early childhood education and in helping children from less well-off backgrounds.
The government has also increased subsidies for lower and middle-income families in education, housing and healthcare. It will keep pursuing better wages for the lowest-paid workers through the Progressive Wage Model, and in fact redouble its efforts to bring progressive wages to every sector.
SM Tharman emphasised that social mobility is central to the Singaporean ethos, from our founding to the future.
“Social mobility is what Singapore has been about, and how we have transformed our society since the 1960s. Generations of children from humble backgrounds have moved up in life, through education, and by working hard in their jobs and businesses. Even today, Singaporeans who grow up in lower income families have a better chance of moving up the income ladder than those in most other advanced countries.
We must never become a society where social pedigree and connections count for more than ability and effort.”Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies