A Look At The Absence of Social Welfare In Singapore
Published Wednesday, August 16, 2006 by yuen.
Singapore government's official policy is to have no comprehensive
welfare provisions, based on the premise that welfare encourages
dependence, reduces incentive to work hard, and saps a country's
economic competitiveness. This makes the country very different from
the "first world" where old age pension, medicare, child endowment
("milk money)", unemployment insurance, negative income tax, etc are
familiar features. The argument is that whereas these countries have
abundant natural resources making it reasonable for the government to
guarantee a minimum standard of living to the people, Singapore is
not in that situation. Where welfare assistance is provided, it is
done on an individual case basis with people with demonstrable need
seeking help from government or private welfare agencies.
I believe there is also a second consideration: the unwillingness to
foster an attitude of entitlement among citizens, causing the
government budget to be pre-committed to various social programmes
leaving the decision makers limited room to invest in future economic
development initiatives. In other words, the anti-welfare policy goes
hand in hand with the wide control of the government over the
national economy, rather than being paradoxial "why a rich government
cannot give more".
I have no wish to start an ideological debate on this issue here, but
would like to make a couple of points of a pragmatic nature.
First, we now live in a world where divorce rates are much higher
than they used to be. A typical situation is that the husband gets
involved with a younger woman, possibly starting a new family,
leaving the wife to cope on her own with the earlier children. While
in most cases the divorced wife and her children would have
sufficient access to financial resources, such as the wife's own
salary, division of family assets, and assistance from grandparents
and other relatives, to provide for their own needs, a significant
portion of such single mother families are badly off, and this number
can be expected to keep increasing. Providing adequate financial
resources in such situations not only alleviates current sufferings,
but also generates future social benefits in giving the children a
better chance to be educated and to develop normally.
Second, a social safety net makes it less likely that temporary
economic setbacks, such as loss of job or major sickness, would lead
to long term adversities putting people into desperate frames of
mind. People would be less likely to go to loan sharks or engage in
minor fund misappropriations, activities that have a tendency to
snowball into more serious crimes in time. A small amount of
assistance at appropriate moments can have very significant long term
benefits by preventing small misfortunes from turning into major ones.
--- In Sg_Review@yahoogroups.com, Sg_Review@yahoogroups.com wrote:
The Truth Behind Singapore's Public Policy Administration
21 Jan 2005
Government led "Family Friendly" benefits and "Flexi-work"
arrangements often look good only on paper but find very limited
application outside of the civil service in the real pressure filled
world of private sector firms and MNCs. This was the bitter lesson
learnt by Ms Lim Ai Ling when she attempted to cash-in on her "Family
Friendly Benefits" and instead opened a can of worms. Ms Lim found to
her horror that a "Flexi-work" public policy does not mean flexi-work
arrangements in practise.
Ms Lim's mistake is quite understandable. Many of us assume that
policies are more than mere rhetoric and take them at face value
especially when they are enthusiastically reported in the local
government owned papers. We mistakingly assume that a "Family
public policy translates into more quality time with our loved ones.
But the truth is hard to swallow in Singapore. Few realise that most
the policies are mere publicity stunts devoid of actual substance and
one relies on them at his or her own peril.
To be fair, many firms and Multinational Companies (MNCs) will
these government led "family friendly" % "flexi-work" packages as
of their standard employee welfare program. But they are also faced
with budget constraints and the constant pressure of keeping costs
and achieving a larger workload with the same (or even smaller)
Family Friendly = More Time With Family = Less Time in Office
What the PAP and Singapore's highly paid ministers fail to realize is
that we cannot eat our cake and have it. For every choice made there
an underlying opportunity cost. Most private sector MNCs have already
optimized workflows and streamlined work protocols so only very
room is available for further rationalization exercises. In a fast
moving work place like this, the opportunity cost of implementing a
family friendly work environment translates into;
a) Shorter Work hours;
b) Lighter work loads;
c) Employing more staff to do the same amount of work;
d) Increased labour costs and head-count;
e) And ultimately a less competitive Singapore work force (and
The logic behind the above is part of Introductory Economics 101;-
a company is given fixed (and limited labour resource units), if one
factor of production is increased while the others remain constant,
overall returns will relatively decrease after a certain point.
The bottom line is that many department heads, and employers are
unwilling to accept the above costs which will ultimately eat into
net profit and overall financial performance of a firm. The accepted
norm in Singapore's MNCs is to "over leverage" on fixed labour
resources so that the department is actually operating on the
segment of the Total Productivity curve. Needless to say this is an
inefficient allocation or resources as the mix of resource units are
not optimized. But this is of no consequence to most department heads
as their only sole objective (to the exclusion of all else including
worker welfare) is to keep labour costs down.
In this flawed strategy, worker welfare (and Family Friendly
are interests that directly conflict with the balancesheet / P&L
of the company (and the state).
Unfortunately, the same flawed strategy is adopted by the Singapore
government albeit on a larger scale. On a small island with no
resources, the only "resource" which is saleable in order to attract
foreign investments is HUMAN LABOUR. But if this is the case and the
average worker should be of prime importance to the overall well
of Singapore Inc, Management should implement more friendly work
policies. Instead, the average worker is exploited and they seem to
intent on killing the goose that lays the golden egg.
Past examples of the PAP Government's "Family Friendly" policies
1) Cutting Employer's CPF: Implementing across the board wage
reductions (in the form of unilateral cuts to employers CPF
contribution). This was a policy which the PAP government imposed
harshly with the full knowledge that government census figures showed
that most Singaporeans workers are still dependent on CPF
to pay-off their mortgages. See:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/%c2%adSg_Review/message/618 and also
2) No CPF Restoration in Good Times: During a subsequent economic
recovery, this same government did not restore Employers CPF
contributions. The ministers of cause restored their own salaries
(though it was highly questionable if they ever took a wage cut in
first place. See http://groups.yahoo.com/group/%c2%adSg_Review/message/1234
But the buck literally stopped before it reached the average
3) Singapore is a very expensive place to call home. Its ok if you
just "passing through" as an expat, but the story is different if you
try settling here for good. See:
4) Singapore Workers Over Paid; Inspite of para (3) above, this same
government also came to the rather far-fetched conclusion that
Singapore workers were more well paid than their counterparts in the
US, UK and Australia (see:
5) Singapore Workers Cannot Retire: Contrary to the assertions of the
government in para (4) above, it is a fact that Singaporean workers
will not have enough in their savings to retire on. See:
6) State Enterprises Live Off Workers: Decades of huge hidden fiscal
surpluses enrich the Singapore government and state enterprises but
impoverish the private sector and tax payers. See Far Eastern
7) Its a Crime Not To Top-Up CPF; This same government has made a
if you do not top-up your CPF. Only in Singapore is it possible to be
taken to court if you owe yourself money. See:
The list goes on and on but for the sake of brevity we will stop
From the above mix of policies the overall picture is clear. Actions
speak louder than words. In the grand scheme of things of the PAP
government, there is no place for workers welfare and "Family
Benefits". Of cause it would be political suicide (even in Singapore)
to publicly admit this truth so in true PAP tradition policies are
drafted and the government controlled press is enlisted to show case
the public that worker's welfare feature prominently in the ruling
Of cause the problem here is that there maybe afew kind unsuspecting
souls who actually swallow this entire sales pitch, hook line and
sinker, which brings us bad to the sad story of Ms Lim Ai Ling.
Then again, with Human Labour as Singapore Inc's only available
product, do you honestly believe that management of Singapore Inc
endorse policies which will degrade the quality and standard of its
sole product (and life line)? This government's unspoken stand on
and butter issues is that the welfare and well being of the average
worker is subordinated by those of the "larger" and more "pressing"
concerns of the state. Like the usual Stalin and Marxist model, the
average Singaporean worker is expected to make sacrifices for the
"larger good" of the state.
This perspective also sits well with the government's current
anti-labour policies which favour labour representation by a sham
labour union (NTUC). The existence of strong and real labour union
representation would not agree with a management strategy which has
objective of keeping Singapore Inc's sole product price competitive
(i.e.cheap) and attractive. There is a negative correlation between
quality of life and attractiveness of Singapore Inc's prime product.
In order to placate workers, what we get from "Management" of
Inc are a series of measures which look good on paper but were never
intended to see real actual application in the real work place in the
private sector. This also explains the reason why there is the very
conspicuous absence of any real bona fide labour union representation
With unemployment rates remaining at 4.5% p.a. (which sit strangely
beside reports by the local press of a local economic recovery), the
status quo in the job market is decidedly in favour of the employer.
Unlike other developed countries like the US, UK, Australia etc,
Singapore is not a welfare state, so in the absence of real tangible
labour union representation the employers hold all the cards on the
negotiation table. In view of the current conditions desperate
with mortgages to pay are willing to accept lower pay, longer work
hours and more stressful work conditions.
The Singapore government has never been a strong proponent of human
rights (and free speech) so this Stalin/Marxist styled mentality in
public policy administration is also hardly surprising. However,
imperfect state of affairs might be easier to accept if Singapore's
Ruling Elite also led by example. But this was not the case as
Singapore's current ministers have conveniently exempt themselves
the same policies on wage restraint which they cavalierly impose for
the rest of the population.
What happens if the average unsuspecting worker takes the "Family
Friendly" and "Flexi-work" policies of the PAP government at face
and attempts to actually see these policies through to actual
implementation? Ask Ms Lim Ai Ling who was finally retrenched for all
We circulate below article from Lim Ai Ling which should be read
keeping in mind the overall larger "labour friendly" policy mix of
Singapore Government. There is more than meets the eye in the shady
world of public policy implementation and there is a lesson to be
learnt in this for all would-be believers.
20 Jan 2005
Lim Ai Ling
HERE'S WHY FAMILY-FRIENDLY BENEFITS DON'T FARE WELL HERE
I refer to the report, "Flexi-work arrangements still limited" (Jan
It's not surprising that the family-friendly benefits did not fare
I was in the IT line. I had tried to ask my former employer, a big
local company, for a flexi-work deal so I could spend more time with
I asked to work from home, but my request was turned down.
Then I tried asking to work four extended days in a week with one day
off, another proposal that was turned down.
This is unlike in the United States or the United Kingdom, where
employees have been able to persuade employers to let them use the
work from home, as noted in the News Comment, "From home to work with
mouse click" (Jan 14).
Finally, I was asked to accept a retrenchment package while I was
pregnant with my second child.
My manager told me it was the best arrangement as, with the money, I
could stay home and look after my kids!
Letter from Lim Ai Ling
From: Mellanie Hewlitt - Singapore Review
Date: Mon Feb 24, 2003 6:00 pm
Subject: Singapore Needs A Little Love, Compassion & Love Potion 99.
Singapore Needs A Little Love and Compassion?
An amusing perception of the Singapore Procreation Process;
Everything runs like clockwork in squeaky clean, efficient little
Singapore. Well, almost everything at least. And what does the Ruling
Elite do if there is a problem in their neat tidy backyard? They
address it by way of laws, fines, taxes, imprisonments and law
suites, this after all is the PAP way. It has worked in the past and
it will always work in the future. But then again perhaps not.
The tiny city state and its ever paternalistic government have a
problem which cannot be solved by the usual cocktail of laws, fines,
litigation and campaigns. This problem is a highly personal one which
extends into the private bedrooms of its citizens. How does a well
meaning parent tell its usually compliant and obedient children
to "get on with it", to "make hay whilst the sun shines" and more
directly put, to "go forth, procreate, multiply and reproduce."?
Along with the status of a developed nation, Singapore has also
inherited its trade mark problems. Its population (particularly the
better educated and wealthier Chinese majority) is not replacing
itself and birth rates have been declining continously over the
years. And this is a problem which the paternalistic government
cannot address in its usual draconian style. No, you cannot impose a
fine, and neither can you pass a law to solve this sensitive issue.
And if left unaddressed, there is every potential that the little
city-state with its population of 4 million people will "develop"
itself to extinction.
The task is growing more urgent because the birth rate among
Singapore's four million people is falling steadily and now
languishes at 1.4 children per woman. That's below the 2.1
demographers say is necessary for a population to replace itself.
In the past, Singapore's ruling elite have approached the problem
with their usual efficiency and diligence, by way of campaigns and
policy implementations. Indeed, their attempt to play cupid had not
gone unnoticed and has been the source of much amusement (see
previous article attached below; "Government Promotes Unions Of Its
Best and Brightest; Soul Mates in 7 Minutes?", The Wallstreet
After several failed attempts, the "Powers that be" finally realized
that (at least for matters of the heart, and bedroom type activities)
they cannot point a gun to a person's head and mandate him/her to
kick start the domestic baby making factory. No Mr Lee, it does not
work this way, that's not how Adam and Eve started out, and that's
certainly not how the Good Lord created the universe.
Perhaps one reason for the government's dismal failures is the
overwhelming emphasis on academic qualifications and other "hard
factors". The government set-up two different social units to
encourage marriage amongst the younger generation. One for graduates
(SDU, Singapore's best and brightest?) and one for non-graduates
(SDS). The underlying message of cause was that new generation of
Singaporeans should choose their partners and marry within the
confines of their own designated Academic Caste System. Hence, it is
small wonder why many younger and more liberal minded Singaporeans
find this archaic medieval academic caste system highly objectionable
and terribly unromantic.
Many may also remember the infamous "Graduate Mother Scheme" which
the government tried to implement a decade ago. For those who are
unfamiliar, it would be best described as the PAP's way to implement
their version of the Laws of Un-Natural Selection, and propagate the
ruling elite's own twisted version of the theory of evolution.
Graduate couples were then given huge financial incentives and
support to have more children. The rationale being that children from
graduate couples were more likely to be intelligent and gifted. Of
cause the flip side of the equation logically implied that children
of non-graduate parents were total misfits and genetically inferior!
This measure of the worth of a human life (accessed solely on
academic merits) raised many questioning eyebrows, from graduates and
non-graduates alike. And it came as no surprise that the scheme was a
colossal failure, a heartening reflection that the Singapore
population still retained some semblance of independent thought and
dignity when it comes to matters of the heart at least
But aside from the colossal failures of the government sponsored
match making programs, a host of other factors account for the
declining birth rates. "Go forth and multiply" you say? Well that's
more easily said then done for the average couple in Singapore with
an average household income of approximately SGD3-4000/-. Unless you
are part of the ruling elite who take home a minimum net income of
SGD150,000/- per month (or SGD1.6 million per year), (the average pay
packet for a PAP minister), life is not easy in expensive little
The start-up costs for a new family can be staggering, with big
ticket items like a car and a house. Even a 1.6 Litre Japanese car
will cost at least SGD80,000/-, which is the equivalent of a decent 3
bedroom house in some countries. And a small 1,200 Sq Ft apartment
can set you back SGD1,000,000.- and more, depending on the locality
and tenor. What about government "subsidised" housing?
Well, "subsidised" housing here takes the form of HDB (Housing
Development Board) flats which will cost between SGD200,000 to
SGD400,000/-, the equivalent of a decent size house in Australia or
And the costs and expenses do not stop here. The government has also
imposed compulsory savings in the form of CPF (Central Provident
Fund), which is mandatory and ties up approx 20% of the monthly pay
of the citizens. There is no access to these funds until you reach
the retirement age of 55 years. And if you fall ill or need a
operation before this age, good luck matey you are on your own. Then
there are the other daily expenses like ERP (Electronic Road
Pricing), maid levies, GST, all of which is imposed in a city state
which is conspicuously bereft of any public welfare or unemployment
In short, staggering initial capital outlay required in starting a
family here, as well as increasing costs of living, have paved the
way for dual income households where both husband and wife typically
work 12 hour days just to make ends meet. And after a hectic work
day, there is little time left over for other more "romantic"
pastimes, let alone raising a child.
Even when there is an increase in marriage rates, there is no sure
sign that this would reverse the declining birth rates as the vast
majority of couples either opt not to have children, or in the event
they do, the wealthy and affluent class (which are most targeted by
the Singapore Government) have instead chosen to have children
abroad. One such individual was a banker (who requested to remain
anonymous) who stated that he would want his child to have a normal
and happy childhood, as opposed to the rigid, oppressive and highly
competitive pressure-cooked education system in Singapore. He took a
3 week holiday and arranged for his wife to give birth to their
bouncing baby boy in New York, so that the child had the rights and
benefits of US citizenship. And theirs is not an isolated case as
there are many who have opted for a better and easier life for their
children via this route.
Far from encouraging increasing birth-rates, a combination
of dismal government policies and "social engineering", and
unfavourable work and living conditions (for the locals) have
resulted in an exodus of the more affluent segments of the
population, further worsening an already bad situation.
At the end of the day, the act of procreation is highly intimate and
individualistic, very personal in nature. One really wonders if years
of repressive indoctrination have robbed the native populace of the
free will, independence and ability to rise to the occasion,
instilling an over-dependent, compliant and submissive culture which
is anti-thesis to the aggressive survival instinct that is crucial
But not withstanding the difficult and oppressive social and
financial environment moulded by the government, surely our fore
fathers and distant ancestors have faced greater challenges in the
past, and still managed to sow their royal oats and ensured the
continued existence of their bloodlines? So what's really missing in
Singapore's Procreation Equation? A liberal dose of good old
One can almost picture the look of uncomprehending horror on the
faces of the Ruling Elite. How preposterous, marry and procreate in
the name of love? But that would mean breaching the Academic Caste
System! GOOD HAVENS NO! We cant' have people running all over the
place, haphazardly falling in love and procreating, that's wrong!
That's not within the prescribed framework of the nicely laid out
plans Singapore's Ruling Elite had crafted for Singapore Inc.
But some would argue that "letting nature take its own natural
course" is a formulae that has worked for humanity in the last two to
five thousand years. Perhaps its high time some brave hearted martyr
ventures forth and informs the "Powers that be in Singapore" that
they should try a little bit of good old fashioned love (and throw in
the obligatory bouquet of roses) and compassion, if they wished to
Perhaps its also time for the overzealous parent to leave the
children some slack, they are all grown up and they have to figure
this one out for themselves. Alternatively, does anyone have the
recipe for Love Potion No 9. If you do, please mark it URGENT and
forward it to the PAP.
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