January 27th, 2015

Discussing Budget recommendations at the Pre-Budget Forum

budgetOn 24 January, 20 people attended AWARE’s Pre-Budget Forum presenting our recommendations for the Singapore Budget 2015.

AWARE has been submitting recommendations for the Budget for the past five years. This year, our focus is on the need to create a caring economy which recognises and compensates caregivers and which promotes care provision as a public good.

Dr Vivienne Wee, AWARE’s Reserarch and Advocacy Direction, and Yeoh Lam Keong, former Managing Director at GIC Singapore and current adjunct professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, spoke at this forum.

AWARE is making three major recommendations to the Budget this year, which were discussed at the pre-budget forum:

  1. Provide adequate care of children, the elderly and the disabled as a public good that is available to all in need
  2. Develop long-term financial security for women who stay at home to care for family members, thereby contributing to the national economy
  3. Ensure that women are not disadvantaged in any way by the health care system.

Caregiving

Singapore still lacks a national infrastructure for eldercare, a long-term issue that the Pioneer Generation Package and Silver Support Scheme do not do much to address.

Mr Yeoh suggested that Singapore had failed to devise a framework to finance the needs of an ageing population. “How are the many hospitals and community hospitals we will require going to be staffed, and how will they be afforded by the people who use them? How, as AWARE points out, will we compensate family members, mostly women, who will leave the workforce to care for the elderly?”

Members of the audience also mentioned that the community where someone has lived or worked all their lives becomes increasingly important as a form of physical and social support as they age. Current practice allocates the elderly to nursing homes or hospitals based on availability, causing them to be isolated from their families and social networks.

Childcare and fertility 

On childcare, speakers argued that there is a strong public benefit in subsidising childcare. It is a well-recognised fact that the Total Fertility Rate in Singapore has steadily declined for decades, which can be attributed to the increasing cost of raising a child in Singapore.

Theresa Devasahayam, a fellow at the Asia Research Institute, referred to a 2011 OECD report which found that providing childcare as a public good is more effective at raising fertility than direct cash payments (of which Baby Bonus payouts are an example).

Retirement adequacy and the need for a pension 

The inadequacy of CPF was greeted by the audience with a deep sense of recognition. Given that less than half (48.7%) of active CPF members can meet the minimum sum, this was not surprising.

The outlook is even bleaker for women. CPF draws on wages, which caregivers, usually women, cease to receive when they drop out of the workforce. This has real ramifications for such women as they age.

AWARE argued that such women should be compensated for their caregiving labour, which enables other people in the household to do paid work. Women who do unpaid work at home are in fact contributing to national productivity.

Pension credits were cited as a possible solution at the forum, drawing on economist Chia Ngee Choon’s recent call for an introduction of pensions for the bottom third of the elderly population.

Ensure that women are not disadvantaged by the healthcare system

Lastly, healthcare was also found to have gendered dimensions. For both Eldershield and Medishield Life, women have to pay higher premiums. The reason given by the Ministry of Health is that women have longer life expectancies and thus face higher health risks.

Yeoh commented, “The point of health insurance though is to spread risks through the population. Such insurance schemes should not discriminate against one gender based on their ability to live longer.”

AWARE will be submitting its recommendations on the 2015 Singapore Budget through the Reach platform on 29 January. A copy of these recommendations will be uploaded to AWARE’s website.

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