MORE government is not always better government, and more social spending does not mean better results, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday.
He sounded this cautionary note, even as he reiterated the Government's commitment to strengthening social safety nets as Singapore enters a new phase.
"The Government will do more, but the ultimate test of our success is not how much the Government does or how much we spend, but the outcomes of these programmes," he said at a dinner marking the 100th anniversary of St Andrew's Mission Hospital (SAMH).
Founded by Dr Charlotte Ferguson-Davie, the wife of Singapore's first Anglican bishop, the non-profit voluntary welfare organisation (VWO) runs services such as a community hospital and autism centre.
Mr Lee said the European welfare model, where government spending makes up half or more of GDP, was in "serious trouble".
More social spending was also not a silver bullet. While the United States spends 18 per cent of its gross domestic product on health care - more than four times what Singapore does - it has lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality rates, he said.
"We all have to understand this context - VWOs, community groups, the population, the Government, and... adapt our programmes to our circumstances," said Mr Lee.
Community partners like SAMH and the Singapore Anglican Community Services (SACS), which provides social services like a senior activity centre at Kampong Glam, play important roles in complementing state efforts to help the less fortunate.
Their strength, he said, was the "warmth and personal touch" which cannot be replaced by government schemes, however well thought out.
Such groups can use personal and social ties to reach out to the needy, and meet the requirements of individuals and families better than national programmes.