SINGAPORE - The Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) applauds the emphasis on redistributive policies in the breakthrough Budget speech delivered by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam today.
Mr Tharman's speech included a welcome commitment to the government's redistributive role with increased assistance for low income groups supported by taxation of the top 5 per cent earners, said the AWARE statement.
"We are heartened by this recognition of the principles of collective responsibility, fairness and our duties to support one another as fellow citizens," said Dr Vivienne Wee, AWARE's Research and Advocacy Director.
"The government has done well to increase social spending as a percentage of GDP, and to recognise the obligation of those who have benefited the most from the economy to give more back."
With regards to the new Silver Support Scheme, Dr Wee said, "It is groundbreaking that Silver Support is a form of social support based on the individual needs of the recipient and not reliant on employment.
Mr Tharman had said that current and future low-income senior citizens will receive these payouts under the Silver Support Scheme, a permanent initiative which aims to help the bottom 20 per cent of Singaporeans aged 65 and above.
"We also applaud the automatic implementation avoiding application procedures that can hinder individuals. This is a good first step toward a universal basic pension."
AWARE also welcomed Mr Tharman's explicit recognition of the position of homemakers and the insufficiency of CPF in providing for their needs.
It said that the Silver Support will also assist those who participate in the economy without formal employment, such as freelancers and contract workers.
AWARE said it looks forward to further details of its implementation and urges the government to focus primarily on the criterion of lifetime earnings (rather than household situation or housing type) as the main indicator of an individual's level of need for support.
AWARE also welcomed the government's recognition that more support is needed for childcare and early childhood education, including reduction of the domestic worker levy.
"This will help more families meet childcare and eldercare needs," said Dr Wee.
"However, lower income households may not benefit from the levy concession as they cannot afford domestic workers regardless. We hope the government will also consider supporting caregiving by family members, who are usually women."
Mr Tharman had said that the government will halve the foreign domestic worker concessionary levy to $60 per month from May 1 this year and the levy will also be extended to households with children aged below 16, up from below 12 today.
AWARE also welcomed the universal provision of credits under the SkillsFuture scheme, which can be accessed by any individual regardless of their current employment status.
"This may assist women who are looking to return to the workforce after a period of unpaid caregiving, and who cannot rely on employers to fund their training," said Dr Wee.
Mr Tharman had said that all Singaporeans aged 25 and above will each get a SkillsFuture Credit of $500 from 2016. It is an initial amount and the government will make further top-ups at regular intervals. The credits that won't expire, can only be used for education and training.
AWARE also said that: "We hope that the Government will build on the promising new directions expressed in this Budget speech, and eventually address issues of eldercare more comprehensively (including paid eldercare leave). We hope in future years to see fuller recognition and material support of women who leave the workforce to care for their families, at great personal cost. These issues were highlighted in AWARE's Budget recommendations from January as requiring significant state planning and resource allocation."