Welfare a 'dirty word' in Singapore: Is it time to stop being coy about using it?

There will be social service centres all over to help those who need it.

Just do not call them welfare centres.

There is a list of comprehensive help programmes too, as illustrated by Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing in a chart he handed out to Members of Parliament on Monday.

Just do not call them welfare programmes.

For years, welfare has been a dirty word here. We pride ourselves on hard work, living within our means and saving enough for a rainy day.

And for those opposed, welfare is a drain on resources and a recipe for high taxes and overdependence. Just look at present day Europe.

For the longest time, the Government emphasised personal responsibility.

Then there are those who adopt the hardline belief: If you need help, it is because you did not do enough to help yourself.

So welfare is translated to a politically more correct phrase or word. But would those who need it most understand they can be helped?

There was no doubt the issue of getting help to those who need it most weighed heavily on the minds of MPs.

Many raised issues relating to welfare: How much concession can the poor get for transport? Can the low-income get more help? What is the cut off for the poverty line?

In the last few years, schemes have been introduced to cast a safety net for not just the poor but also the elderly, young and even the middle income.

The Workfare Income Supplement of 2007, for example, was the first time the Government recognised that even a person holding a job might still need social support from the state.

A host of new initiatives in recent years have been introduced to ensure that - to borrow a recent phrase by the Prime Minister - "no one is left behind".

So many programmes that MP Zaqy Mohamad said the impression could be that Singapore was moving the way of welfare states common in the West.


Yet the Government is still coy about using the word "welfare". The reluctance to budge and call welfare welfare is startling. But that stance is, of course, wavering, given the comprehensive list of programmes.

We have already come close to calling it welfare. It's Workfare instead.

Mr Chan and other MPS as well spoke of the need to "simplify the messaging" so that those who need help know where to get it.

Maybe that could start with us just being able to call such schemes what they essentially are - "welfare".

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