“Clearly focused on improving the lives of lower-income Singaporeans and older folk too”?

I refer to the article “Towards a broader meritocracy” (Straits Times, Apr 20) and “Cabinet: More left-of-centre now, helping the lower income” (Straits Times, Apr 19).

Shift from centrist to the left?

It states that “The Cabinet has shifted to the left in how it views social policy and helping the lower income, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said.“If I compare our thinking in Cabinet, or the weight of thinking in Cabinet, when I first entered politics about 11 years ago, I would say the weight of thinking was centrist but there were two flanks on either side of it.

“There were some who were a little right-of-centre, and there were some a little left-of-centre,” he said. “Now I would say the weight of thinking is left-of-centre. You still get diversity of views in Cabinet, but the centre of gravity is left-of-centre.”

Focus on lower-income Singaporeans and older folk?

Mr Tharman said the current team in charge is clearly “focused on upgrading the lives and improving the lives of lower-income Singaporeans and older folk too”.”

Not “focused” all these years?

So, do the above remarks mean that we were “not focused” or “less focused” on “upgrading the lives and improving the lives of lower-income Singaporeans and older folk”, in the past?

“Statistical” evidence?

Well, like they say “talk is cheap – let the numbers do the talking!”. So, I cracked my head to think about what statistics may help to answer this question of “focus”.

Big thank you to ES

Sometimes, life works in strange ways – a reader, ES, had just sent me some Budget documents from 1975 with the remarks “Not sure if they are of use to you”. (Note: ES is also the kind soul who sent me the 1987 university education statistics (“No such thing as “tuition grant” before?“, Apr 2) when I said I could not find the tuition fees in 1987 in an earlier article)

Social spending statistics?

Back to the “focus” issue, I think perhaps a good measure may be how much we spend on social spending in the past and recently. This would be a good indicator as to how much we have done in “upgrading the lives and improving the lives of lower-income Singaporeans and older folk”.

Social spending in the past?

In 1975, government spending on Social and Community Services (Education, Health and Others) was $676 million. Dividing this by the population then of  1.8 million (assuming 80 per cent of the total population of 2.25 million were citizens (no breakdown of population in the Budget report)) gives a per capita social spending of $376.

Fast forward to 2012, government spending (operating expenditure) on Social Development was $17.5 billion. Dividing this by the citizen population of 3.29 million gives a per capita spending of $5,319.

This works out to a 7.4 per cent per annum increase in social spending per capita, over the 37 years from 1975 to 2012.

4.4% p.a.  real growth in social spending?

As I estimate that inflation over the same period was about 3 per cent, does this mean that the real growth in social spending was about 4.4 per cent per annum?

6.9% p.a. GDP growth disappeared to … ?

Since GDP for the same period grew by 6.9 per cent per annum, from $26.1 billion in 1975 to $305.2 billion in 2012, it would appear that social spending may not have grown in tandem with good GDP growth.

Why is this so?

Where did all the GDP growth and Budget surpluses go to – accumulating the Reserves – at the expense of “lower-income Singaporeans and older folk“?

Clearly “no focus”?

Perhaps this may “statistically” support the remarks that we “did not focus” or “had less focus” on “upgrading the lives and improving the lives of lower-income Singaporeans and older folk”, in the past.

What about present “focus”?

Now, let’s turn to the present and recent times, to see if “statistically” – “the current team in charge is clearly “focused on upgrading the lives and improving the lives of lower-income Singaporeans and older folk too””, holds up.

Report card – fail?

Unfortunately, it may not appear to be doing so too, because

Social spending decreased?

“GOVERNMENT OPERATING EXPENDITURE – Social Development (Education, healthcare, community development, etc)  – decreased from $17.7 $17.5 billion, from 2011 to 2012.

GOVERNMENT DEVELOPMENT EXPENDITURE – Social Development – decreased from $3.7 to $3.5 billion, from 2011 to 2012.

And we have not even adjusted the above figures for inflation last year – which means that we may actually have spent even less!

In this regard, the CONSUMER PRICE INDEX increased by 4.6 per cent, from 108.2 to 113.1, from 2011 to 2012.” (“Social spending decreased from 2011 to 2012?“, Mar 19)

The motion cannot stand?

Hence, like they say in a debate – Can the motion “”the current team in charge is clearly “focused on upgrading the lives and improving the lives of lower-income Singaporeans and older folk too”” – still stand?

I rest my case!

Leong Sze Hian


 

About the Author

Leong
Leong Sze Hian has served as president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), invited to speak more than 200 times in over 30 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of Indonesia and Brunei. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.