Parliament Highlights - 10 July 2018
PUBLISHED ON 10 Jul 2018
CareShield Life: Safety net for Singaporeans

CareShield Life will be an integral part of Singapore’s social safety net, providing protection and assurance for Singaporeans in the scheme.

Opening the debate on CareShield Life in Parliament, Minister for Health Mr Gan Kim Yong noted that long-term care financing scheme is necessary because it is projected that 1 in 2 Singaporeans who is healthy at age 65, is expected to be severely disabled at some point in their life, and will require long-term care.

With each cohort paying for its own healthcare needs, it minimizes inter-generational transfers which in turn avoids passing the burden to future generations, therefore keeping the scheme sustainable.

Mr Gan also took the opportunity to explain the features of CareShield Life, including its lower enrolment age of 30 years old, its compulsory nature and the Government’s administration of the scheme, which will also have universal coverage.

"Preparing for our old age needs is often of low priority when we are younger, as we tend to focus more on building our career and bringing up our children, which is understandable. But starting to prepare only when we are old would be very challenging," he said.

He also shared that the Government will establish a fund for CareShield Life which will be administered by the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board. The Government will also allow Medisave cash withdrawals and set up a financial assistance scheme, ElderFund, for those aged 30 and above with severe disability. 

Read on for more information on CareShield Life: 
Higher payouts with CareShield Life

MPs call for gender-neutral CareShield Life

Several Members of Parliament have raised concerns that women will have to pay higher premiums under the new CareShield Life insurance scheme.

They raised their concerns after Senior Minister of State for Health Dr Amy Khor shared in Parliament (10 July 2018) that the gender-differentiated premiums will be applied to CareShield Life to ensure the scheme is equitable, sustainable and "actuarially fair".

Leading the argument, Dr Chia Shi-Lu, MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC and Chairperson of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Health, pointed out that the gender differentiation should be removed, in line with other medical and hospitalisation insurance schemes. Dr Chia added: "Singaporean women tend to have lower average Medisave balances than men, so I hope that consideration be given to provide additional premium support for women."

Mr Melvin Yong, MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, reiterated that statistics showed labour participation of women is lower than men, and on average, women earn less than men. He urged the ministry to look into the issue and to ensure that premiums are equal for both genders.

Dr Lily Neo, MP for Jalan Besar GRC, said women might find it difficult to pay the higher premiums.  “While I can understand that women live longer, I feel that there can be better inclusiveness and fairness. My concern is that women may have less means to pay for premiums compared to men.” She also said women earn less due to family commitments and possibly have less savings to spare as they age.

Ms Jessica Tan, MP for East Coast GRC, said that as scheme is compulsory, it is only right that premiums should disregard gender.
Other MPs who spoke on the issue also noted that the gender differentiation makes the scheme less inclusive.
Replying, Dr Khor underscored the need for differentiation and explained that women live longer than men, and therefore are more likely to spend more years in severe disability. She further pointed out that under the current ElderShield insurance, women were already paying higher premiums.
Dr Khor shared that the committee did consider that women have less savings on average, and that the costs could therefore be better supported by the men. “However, on balance, the Committee decided that applying gender-differentiated premiums for CareShield Life would more accurately reflect the differences in risk between men and women, and result in a more sustainable scheme,” she said.
Dr Khor assured MPs that the Government will continue to explore and provide additional premium support for those with less financial means, so that no one will lose coverage due to financial difficulties.

Government will help manage price increases

Minister for Trade and Industry Mr Chan Chun Sing said that he understands Singaporeans’ hope for more help in the areas of education, housing, healthcare and transport, among others.

Although help is rendered through indirect subsidies and means testing to ensure the low income get the most help, this approach throws up some challenges, said Mr Chan.

"Ultimately, we must forge a social consensus of how much we want to tax the general public, to support the desired groups in a targeted manner," he said.

Responding to a query on by Member of Parliament (Bukit Timah-Holland GRC on the cost of living, Mr Chan replied that Cost of living is a multi-dimensional issue, and the measure of how prices change over time is but one aspect of it. The gap between people's aspirations and their ability to fulfil them can also bring cost-of-living pressures to people, he added.

Emphasising that different groups of Singaporeans have different concerns, he said. “Elderly Singaporeans, retirees and their families will be more concerned with healthcare affordability. Families with young children and infants may be more concerned with the prices of milk powder and educational programmes. Yet other families may be aspiring to buy their dream house or car.

“No single measure will express an individual’s ‘cost of living’ pressures fully, given the different needs and wants, the evolving aspirations and the potential gap between aspirations and anticipated means,” remarked Mr Chan.

However, the Government is commited to help all Singaporeans manage and achieve their aspirations. He stated: "We recognise Singaporeans' evolving aspirations for a better life for themselves and their families, and the associated stress of achieving real income growth in a volatile economic environment."

"Beyond creating opportunities for Singaporeans to enjoy real wage growth to meet their aspirations, the Government is also committed to help Singaporeans stretch their hard-earned dollar."

He said that the Consumer Price Index (CPI)-All Items inflation - or overall inflation - was at 0.6 per cent a year on average for the past five years and this was lower than the average of 4 per cent between 2007 and 2012.

He also said overall inflation is expected to remain low this year, between 0.5 per cent and 1 per cent, even as rising global oil prices are expected to increase fuel costs and electricity prices, he added.

The Government will help manage the cost of living by:
  • keeping the economy competitive
  • managing the Singapore dollar
  • diversifying sources of supply for items from food and water to fuel
  • promoting competition to keep prices low
  • managing the cost of doing business
  • focusing on providing help for those with less
  • giving consumers' more choices
  • leveraging social enterprises
He added that the most important thing to do was to
  • create good jobs for people
  • help them stretch their hard-earned dollar
  • give most assistance to those who are the most needy
Temasek and GIC's investments benefit Singaporeans

Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC and state investor Temasek Holdings have "made money over the long term" as their portfolios grew, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Finance Indranee Rajah.

Ms Indranee emphasised that both Temasek's and GIC's investments benefit Singaporeans through the Net Investment Return Contribution (NIRC) to the annual budget.

Describing the NIRC framework as an increasingly important fiscal resource, Ms Indranee said it allows the Government to spend up to 50 per cent of the long-term expected returns from the reserves.

In FY2018, the NIRC is estimated to be about $15.85 billion, or about 18 per cent of overall revenue and this makes it the single largest source of government revenues, said Ms Rajah.

"There are very few countries in the world who have national savings that they can tap to fund their budgets, and this is especially rare for a country like Singapore, which has no natural resources," she said.

"If we continue to be disciplined and responsible stewards of this endowment, our reserves will continue to benefit all Singaporeans, young and old, today and tomorrow."

Watch her speech in Parliament:

2 million applicants for 250,000 jobs from 20,000 employers

More than two million local jobseekers applied for jobs on the MyCareersFuture online jobs portal last year for nearly 250,000 job ads from 20,000 employers, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo.

Responding to questions in Parliament on the job-matching rate of the national online jobs portal Mrs Teo said her ministry is looking at ways to better assess the effectiveness of MyCareersFuture, which was formerly known as the Jobs Bank, in job matching, such as inferring placement rates using administrative data. 

She said small and medium enterprises (SMEs) accounted for more than 60 per cent of job postings on the Jobs Bank in 2017. MOM expects the proportion to be similar in MyCareersFuture.

Zero tolerance approach towards abuse in SAF

Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen has clarified that additional physical training as punishment can be given in accordance to the SAF Join Manpower Directive (4-4) on the Informal Punishment System.

Responding to questions regarding allowing ragging in the Singapore Armed Forces, Dr Ng emphasised that ‘safety of individual soldiers is paramount’, and commanders will have to take corrective measures to mitigate risks to soldiers.

Dr Ng informed Parliament that SAF personnel will be dealt with severely when conducting unauthorized activities, engage in bullying or have not complied with safety regulations.

Reiterating that SAF soldiers are encouraged to report any unauthorized activity or punishment, Dr Ng added: “MINDEF and the SAF take a zero-tolerance approach towards any form of abuse of soldiers or personnel, either by their commanders or peers.”

More resources to support students with special needs

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education, Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim shared that there are more specialised staff to support the needs of students’ special needs in Crest and Spectra Secondary Schools, Northlight School and Assumption Pathway School.

Other than the teachers going through training and professional development in special education, these schools have at last 15 per cent of the teachers who have higher training in special needs.

Prof Faishal also explained that these schools have smaller enrolments, allowing for a better ‘teacher-to-student’ rato.

Dr Intan Azura Member of Parliament for Ang Mo Kio GRC who is also the deputy chairman for the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education responded that at least half of the student intake for the specialized schools have specialized needs and urged the Ministry to look into giving more funding for schools. “I want to urge the Ministry of Education to look at giving more funding for the schools, in terms of employment of teachers who are trained in special needs as well as funding for these schools to employ directly additional teachers or counsellors they may need to help such student,” she said.

Increase in stamp duty collected in 2017

Minister for Finance Mr Heng Swee Keat revealed that the amount of stamp duty collected by the Government rose by 45.9 per cent in 2017.

In a written response on 10 July 2018, Mr Heng said stamp duty from property transactions made up the vast majority of total stamp duty collection.

Stamp duty is payable on instruments which effect a transfer of interest in properties, and stocks or shares in Singapore.

Mr Heng also said that $2.2 billion in stamp duties have already been collected in the first five months of this year.

Stamp duties have been in the headlines recently, after the Government announced cooling measures on 5 July 2018, including tighter loan limits and an increase in Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty (ABSD) rates for some buyers. The Government has said that the measures was to cool the property market and keep price increases in line with economic fundamentals.