Progress made in three key areas, but battle far from won

Progress made in three key areas, but battle far from won
Two-thirds of Singaporeans felt that the Government was doing “better” or “much better” than in 2011. But only 41 per cent felt owning that first home had become easier.

SINGAPORE - In any country around the world, housing, health care and transport must rank among the most important bread-and-butter issues that a government must get right.

Not only do they fundamentally affect how happy people feel as they go about their daily lives, they tell you something about whether aspirations of the young can be achieved, and if society is there to catch them one day when they fall.

Almost three years on from the last general election, the results of The Straits Times' survey show a mixed bag of results for the Government in these key areas.

It is not for want of trying. Some problems like housing are dependent on external economic factors that the Government cannot entirely control, while others like transport will take more than one election cycle to fix.

But one thing seems clear: the bolder the move and the more unequivocal the message, the greater the payoff.

This is most apparent in the area of health care, where one- quarter of respondents gave the Government the highest praise. On a scale of one to five, they picked "five" - saying it was doing a "much better" job than in 2011.

It is all the more remarkable given that, relatively speaking, the unhappiness with health-care issues was not as palpable in 2011 as say, housing, transport or foreign workers. On the whole, the combination of health subsidies and the "3M" system in Singapore - Medisave, MediShield and Medifund - has generally worked to keep the cash cost of standard health-care treatment low, yet fairly decent in quality.

Rather, the discomfort was more about whether the system could withstand the ageing tsunami that will hit Singapore in the next 10 to 20 years. And there were sad stories of people who fell through the cracks somehow: perhaps having a pre-existing condition not covered by MediShield, yet not being poor enough to qualify for Medifund help.

Since 2011, however, the Government has moved decisively to head off these problems.

It has announced a major revamp of MediShield that will, simply put, offer near-universal health insurance coverage for life, while pledging to ramp up health- care spending to keep premiums low. This has given peace of mind not just to the very old and those with pre-existing conditions, but anyone who might one day fall into these two previously uninsurable categories.

Meanwhile, it has also forced employers to pay 1 per cent more in monthly salaries into older workers' Medisave accounts, and given a generous Pioneer Generation Package of health-care benefits to those above 65.

Mind you, much of this has not been completed or implemented yet. But the clarity of the Government's intent and the effort in forward planning has not been lost on Singaporeans, especially those aged between 55 and 64, which saw a big rise in confidence in health-care issues.

In the area of housing, the picture is less clear.

Two-thirds of Singaporeans felt that the Government was doing "better" or "much better" than in 2011 - a proportion equal to that of health care.

This is also due to a series of bold moves, this time targeting particularly newly-weds who felt they had to wait too long to buy new Housing Board flats, yet were being priced out of the market for resale flats and private property.

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