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MPs’ suggestions to support Singaporeans in pandemic

09 Oct 2020 4 min read

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In the recent Parliament sitting, PAP Members of Parliament raised suggestions to better help workers, businesses and families pull through the Covid-19 pandemic. They also highlighted the groups who might need extra help, including the low-income and elderly. 

Govt regularly reviews eligibility criteria of assistance schemes

MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC Sharael Taha proposed reviewing the eligibility criterionfor distribution of support grants based on per capita income of occupants living in a particular address.

Minister for Social and Family Development (MSF) Masagos Zulkifli said that measures such as household per capita income are useful proxies of a household’s financial circumstances. MSF regularly reviews such eligibility criteria and will exercise flexibility when applying them.

In response to MP for West Coast GRC Foo Mee Har’s question on support for families facing prolonged periods of unemployment, Mr Masagos said that MSF has automatically extended the duration of assistance for existing ComCare beneficiaries by six months. They also benefit from other broad-based COVID-related support schemes.

MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC Gan Thiam Poh asked whether the Government will review Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) and further raise the amount to one-third of the workers’ monthly gross income. Manpower Minister Mrs Josephine Teo said that her ministry will continue to review Workfare regularly. The maximum Workfare pay out was increased by up to 14 per cent starting from January this year.

Additional help for persons with disabilities to find jobs

MPs were also concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on the employment of persons with disabilities (PWDs). MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC Chong Kee Hiong asked about their employment prospects while MP for Jurong GRC Dr Tan Wu Meng asked about the retrenchment rate.

MOM does not break down the number of retrenched residents to persons with or without disabilities. SG Enable has reached out to PWDs who stopped working since the start of the year to encourage them to sign up for employment support services. SG Enable also has existing training and job support services for PWDs. DPM Heng has announced that the Government will provide the higher tier of wage support of 50 per cent for each new hire of local PWDs under the Jobs Growth Incentive.

Government will support employers’ efforts to retain senior workers

In response to MP for Yio Chu Kang SMC Yip Hon Weng’s questions on helping senior workers, Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo said that the retrenchment and unemployment rates for older workers are comparable to those of the overall workforce.

Through various measures including the Part-time Re-employment Grant, our employment rate for residents aged 60 and above has increased from 27.2 per cent in 2009 to 38.5 per cent in 2019. Mrs Teo stressed that the Government will continue to support employers’ efforts to retain them.

Under the SEP (self-employed persons) Income Relief Scheme (SIRS) scheme, married individuals will not qualify for SIRS if the assessable income of his or her spouse exceeds $70,000 a year. MP for Radin Mas SMC Melvin Yong asked whether the government can review this.

Mrs Teo explained that the SIRS aims to help Singaporean SEPs with less means and family support tide over this period of economic uncertainty. $70,000 is significantly above the median assessable income and is in line with other national schemes such as Workfare. She revealed that those with spousal incomes slightly above the threshold could appeal.

13,000 funded training places available under the SGUnited Skills Programme

In response to MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC Christopher de Souza‘s questions on the SGUnited Skills Programme, Minister for Education Lawrence Wong said that the Government has rolled out 13,000 funded training places across a wide variety of courses and is on track to meet the target of 20,000 places by December 2020. The Government is prepared to increase the training places should there be additional demand, he added.

Relief for individuals and businesses in debt

Due to the impact of the pandemic, individuals and businesses might encounter problems in repaying their loans. MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC Don Wee asked whether the Monetary Authority of Singapore could provide guidance to financial institutions not to let borrowers’ dismal financial performance this year affect their credit scoring. He said that would help both individuals and Small and Medium Enterprises.

In response, Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies Tharman Shanmugaratnam said that the Government’s priority is to help individual and business borrowers not to miss payments. Since March 2020, MAS has been working closely with the financial industry to implement relief measures to help borrowers defer and spread out their monthly repayments, he added.  Financial institutions are also advised to look beyond the borrower’s short-term cash flow problems when assessing their credit standing.

In response to MP for Bukit Batok SMC Murali Pillai’s questions relating to the Special Financial Relief Programme (SFRP) (Unsecured), SM Tharman said that about 8,100 people have converted loan balances to term loans on a lower interest rate. This amounted to more than $200 million of personal unsecured debt, or about $25,000 per individual on average.

Don Wee also proposed reducing the capped interest rate of 8% per annum, increasing the five-year loan tenor and extending the conversion period beyond December 2020.

In response, Tharman said that in designing the SFRP programme, MAS and the industry considered similar products in the market. The 8% cap on effective interest rate is at the lower end of the range offered by banks. The terms are already very favourable because this rate is offered to borrowers who are past due on their payments.

To help borrowers who may continue to experience cashflow pressures, the application period for the programme has been extended to 30 June 2021.