- The Straits Times
Singaporeans earned higher incomes last year and unemployment remained low, even amid uncertainties due to the changing global environment.
They also saw improvements in bread-and-butter issues like housing and healthcare.
These were among the findings in the Singapore Public Sector Outcomes Review, that takes stock of how Singapore has fared in key areas of national interest, such as the economy and transport.
The biennial report, released by the Ministry of Finance (MOF) on Thursday (Dec 20), said “Singapore is faced with fresh opportunities and new challenges as technologies reshape our economy and society”.
Even as the authorities continue to put in place measures to ensure Singapore rises to the challenge, the report noted that the incomes of Singaporeans at the 20th percentile and median income levels went up, with their wages growing by 4 per cent every year since 2013.
And although unemployment rates were higher in 2016 and 2017 – crossing the 3 per cent mark – they remained low compared to other countries, the report noted.
The push for productivity, which is key to sustainable growth but has been growing sluggishly over the years, also saw results, even though gains are still uneven across sectors.
The Government supported 45,000 companies and 450 projects in their overseas ventures last year.
All 23 Industry Transformation Maps to promote growth and competitiveness have also been rolled out, with the MOF noting that the “next phase of transformation will look at synergies within clusters of industries”.
The report also noted the Government’s efforts in getting Singaporeans to embrace lifelong learning.
For example, two out of three pre-schoolers will have a place in an affordable government or government-supported pre-school by 2023. This follows a 60 per cent increase in pre-school spaces since 2012, and another 40,000 spots to be added.
On the other end of the spectrum, more than 285,000 adult Singaporeans used their SkillsFuture credit last year. More than 25,000 jobseekers also secured jobs through the Adapt and Grow initiative last year, 20 per cent more than the year before.
The report also noted the various ways in which the authorities are helping to manage the cost of living.
In terms of healthcare, government expenditure is expected to more than double, from $3.9 billion in the 2011 financial year to $10.2 billion this financial year.
A large part of this increase went towards enhancing subsidies to keep healthcare affordable for Singaporeans. Last year, close to 90 per cent of bills for inpatient treatments required less than $500 out-of-pocket expenditure after subsidies and Medisave and MediShield Life.
For outpatient treatments, about 750,000 and 650,000 individuals benefited from Medisave and the Community Health Assist Scheme respectively.
First-time home buyers continue to have access to affordable homes, with the report noting that the debt servicing ratio of new four-room Housing Board flats in non-mature estates remained low, at 22 per cent last year.
Last year, 8,100 first-timer families and singles buying resale flats benefited from increased grants put in place since last February.
And since the launch of the Proximity Housing Grant in August 2015, 11,000 families have received a total of $211 million to live near or with their parents. Today, first-timer applicants buying resale flats can receive up to $120,000 in grants – a 50 per cent increase from 2015.
As for transport, about 1.8 million concession cards, which give discounts of up to 50 per cent off regular adult public transport fares, have been issued to date. Those with disabilities also get subsidies of up to 80 per cent under the enhanced Taxi Subsidy Scheme, which now covers private-hire cars.
As for the needy, they continue to receive the largest share of transfers from the Government, with 79,000 beneficiaries receiving $131 million in social assistance payouts in the last financial year.
The report also noted the push for better delivery of public services and more convenience to Singaporeans through the Smart Nation initiative, which aims to transform the nation through technology in areas like e-payments and urban mobility.
For example, businesses can now transact more easily with the Government through the LicenceOne portal, which uses one application form to apply for multiple licences from 20 agencies.
Singaporeans and businesses can also now make payments safely and simply through PayNow, which around 1.76 million users have registered for as of September this year. The authorities are also making use of this service to disburse payments such as Edusave awards and SG Bonus payments more quickly.
Commenting on the report, head of civil service Leo Yip said the Government has made progress on many fronts to deliver better policies and services.
“One element that has been present across these efforts is ensuring we listen to and partner Singaporeans in these efforts – from transforming our economy to strengthening our society to ensure a better future for Singaporeans,” he said.
He cited the Health Ministry’s Citizens’ Jury earlier this year as an example of how the public service has tried new ways to engage citizens in designing solutions.
He said: “Across the work of the Public Service, we will continue to put citizens at the centre of what we do.”