The Big Read: TODAY roundtable — what are young S'poreans' concerns and what do they think about Budget 2022?
On Friday (Feb 18), TODAY organised a roundtable with youths aged 35 and below to discuss measures announced at the 2022 Budget.
On Friday (Feb 18), TODAY organised a roundtable with several young Singaporeans aged 35 and below to discuss their concerns as well as measures announced in Budget 2022.
The participants were Ms Amanda Ong, 30, founder of baby-sitting mobile application Aunty and a mother of two children aged 3 and 1; Mrs Bernadette Giam, 35, director of corporate affairs and human resources at Creative Eateries; Mr Karl Png, 25, co-founder of Singapore Youth Voices for Biodiversity; Ms Nurultasnim Salim, 23, a caregiver to her 54-year-old mother with diabetes and schizophrenia; and Mr Sebastian Hoe Wee Kiat, 29, a social worker from Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities Family Service Centre at Bedok North.
Here are the excerpts:
TODAY: WHAT ARE YOUR IMMEDIATE CONCERNS THAT YOU WOULD LIKE THE GOVERNMENT TO ADDRESS?
Amanda: The first thing I can think of is the rising cost of living. Because with young children, it is a trade-off with regards to the quality of education, childcare, their basic needs.... So, during this period, it's a very challenging time, especially for young parents between the age of 25 and the 40s, that phase where we're supposed to build our career, build our family and look after elderly parents. The rising cost of living is causing a strain on what we have financially, our energy and our resources.
Bernadette: Most food-and-beverage (F&B), retail or service-oriented businesses are already struggling with manpower stability and are very hard-pressed to find adequate levels of local manpower, especially because Singaporeans have eschewed jobs that are service-oriented traditionally, and what more in the face of the risk of being on the front line of the pandemic.
Karl: As a young person, as someone who is aspiring to be a plant ecologist, (the Budget) is very relevant to my own life… How would I, as a person going into the workforce very soon, be able to afford a basic income to survive? That was really my major concern as a young person entering the workforce. Another thing that concerns me… is about how we want to transit to a fairer society… I feel very strongly that inequality has to improve.
Nurultasnim: Before the pandemic, my mother used to go to a rehabilitation centre, but since it hit, I have been taking care of her. As a young caregiver, it is tough because I need to juggle establishing myself and taking care of her. Sometimes, I need flexible hours to accompany her for appointments. The solution is to get a helper. That is my concern. I was hoping that there was some assistance in the healthcare or mental health sector, so that people will be more aware about mental health issues and hopefully in future employers will be more understanding and empathetic to her and to me also.
Sebastian: I want to share that as a front-line social worker serving in the Family Service Centre, we serve in the heartlands and the clients that we see are people that come from all walks of life. They have various issues like mental health, disabilities and even those that are facing accommodation, financial or family relationship issues... Cost of living is something I’m concerned about (in particular) as a social worker addressing social inequality in Singapore.
“The first thing I can think of is the rising cost of living. Because with young children, it is a trade-off with regards to the quality of education, childcare, basic needs...Ms Amanda Ong, 30, founder of baby-sitting mobile application Aunty and a mother of two children aged 3 and 1”
“As someone aspiring to be a plant ecologist, (the Budget) is very relevant to my own life… How would I be able to afford a basic income to survive? Another thing that concerns me… is about how we want to transit to a fairer society.Mr Karl Png, 25, co-founder of Singapore Youth Voices for Biodiversity”
TODAY: DID THE BUDGET ADDRESS THESE CONCERNS? WHAT ARE YOUR OVERALL THOUGHTS ON THE BUDGET?
Amanda: Since I built my mobile application (to match babysitters with parents), I’ve been speaking to a lot of young parents... It's very stressful for them to look after a young child during the pandemic. It’s difficult to take leave when your child has (to be isolated at home for several days). Some of them make the decision to stop working altogether, since the kids are not going to school. That raises questions about the employability of a lot of very capable young women. So Minister Lawrence Wong has addressed this issue. He said that especially for lower-income families, the issues that they face are multifaceted. It's not like you can just give them cash, and then it solves the problem… What I was thinking about when he brought this up was whether it was timely and holistic enough. I do feel that sometimes a lot of parents are burnt out and they need immediate or timely assistance and it might not be able to reach them as quickly as we hope for it to be... hopefully, there'll be more support and more collaboration, and then that could bridge this gap.
Bernadette: So hearing the Budget speech, where there is an adjustment of foreign manpower policy, we clearly have our challenges cut out for us. The foreign dependency ratio is really computed as a function of how much local manpower you're able to hire and I think that most businesses in the F&B sector have really done everything that they possibly can to hire as many locals as possible.
At the moment, we are already struggling with the number of locals that we have. So we are not very optimistic about how much more we will be able to change or redesign jobs in order to meet the manpower needs for business growth.
There is a lot of competition across sectors and within various industries for the same pool of talent. Highly digitalised companies like Creative Eateries, where we've digitised a lot of our platforms, will require dynamic local workers to operate the business. But the same pool of people is also in high demand among other companies, other industries, which are not necessarily in direct competition to us. So, be it in project management, IT, human resources, finance... (people in these fields) are all required across the industries in the economy and they're not enough.
Karl: The first thing that came to my mind was the Goods and Services Tax (GST) hike, and it took me a while to come to the realisation about how impactful the 9 per cent GST will be on my life. It’s just so broad-ranging. Everything will be affected.
The minister also talked about Article 6 of the Paris Agreement (which establishes a framework for a carbon market). On the point of carbon offsets and carbon credits, we have to ask ourselves if these are just offsets so that businesses are no longer liable to pay carbon tax. A lot of environmental groups are saying that these carbon credits shouldn't be a last resort because if you really want to decarbonise the economy, we have to not allow businesses and companies or even organisations to just use these carbon credits to get away from decarbonisation.
Nurultasnim: The (raising of the Basic Retirement Sum and higher monthly CPF payouts) caught my attention. It is very assuring for me that my parents have something to depend on and I don’t have to provide for them my whole life.
Sebastian: I was touched by what Minister Lawrence Wong mentioned about (upholding a sense of) obligation to each other. What the Minister stated is actually what’s called in the social service sector as the "many helping hands" approach. This is where the individual has a part to play for his own living and then coming in with support from family members, relatives and also the community to support them. Finally, the Government working with respective stakeholders for the self, family and the community in this "many helping hands" approach to help our families and fellow Singaporeans. So I thought those are very interesting principles we have in Singapore.
... There was also mention about SkillsFuture and I recall that the top-ups and additional credits will expire in 2025, so I am quite curious if the Government will announce more plans in the future about SkillsFuture... this investment towards lifelong learning, regardless of age, will benefit those regardless of their income group.
We’ve also heard about the SingapoRediscovers Vouchers. The vouchers were introduced to boost tourism, but... they also gave low-income families an opportunity to have luxury activities such as to go to the zoo or other excursions. There are some unintended positive benefits from the vouchers and I am curious if the Government will consider in future how we can utilise these vouchers to better the quality of living for Singaporeans.
“The (raising of the Basic Retirement Sum and higher monthly CPF payouts) caught my attention. It is very assuring for me that my parents have something to depend on and I don’t have to provide for them my whole life.Ms Nurultasnim Salim, 23, a caregiver to her 54-year-old mother with diabetes and schizophrenia”
“I was touched by what Minister Lawrence Wong mentioned about (upholding a sense of) obligation to each other. What the Minister stated is actually what’s called in the social service sector as the 'many helping hands' approach.Mr Sebastian Hoe Wee Kiat, 29, a social worker from Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities Family Service Centre at Bedok North”
TODAY: WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE INITIATIVES TO SUPPORT HOUSEHOLDS?
Nurultasnim: It seems like the Household Support Package really helps, especially the Community Development Council (CDC) vouchers. Because my mother has Type-2 diabetes, we have to eat healthy food, which is more expensive… So the extra money helps.
Sebastian: The GST increase will affect everyone, particularly those from low-income and middle-income families. This S$560 million Household Support Package will help to mitigate the cost of living. This investment towards lifelong learning, regardless of age, will also benefit those from all income groups.
TODAY: WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE OVERALL CHANGES TO THE TAX SYSTEM, INCLUDING RAISING THE GOODS AND SERVICES TAX (GST) AND TAXING HIGHER EARNERS MORE?
Amanda: In terms of parenting, a lot of things are necessities — even a breast pump costs S$500. There are costs that you just cannot do without. With childcare, sometimes it's a painful decision. If you cannot afford better childcare, it's very painful to put your child in a place you don't feel that comfortable with. So there's a lot of emotional things tied to price increases... I’m thinking of what I can cancel or what I can do without. I think (my children) can eat simpler food; they can do without enrichment classes. These are not a must-have, but a good-to-have.
Bernadette: I’m happy to hear that the GST hike will not take place this year, because I feel that supply chains have been so heavily disrupted that raw material costs for almost everything have really been increasing… So, I'm glad that this has been deferred till next year, because it would be good for the market to have some stability, in order to determine its pricing and for consumers to not have that additional burden, such that GST gets confused with increases in price because I think it might be a lot for an average consumer to stomach.
The GST applies to everything that is consumed. So it hits the middle-income earners the hardest. And I think the middle income in Singapore generally feel quite sandwiched because there's really a very high cost of living. So I was quite surprised that this also didn't come with more wealth-tax-related things. There was a bit about (income and) property taxes (for non-owner occupied residential properties) and a tax for luxury cars, but that was about it.
Karl: I’m just glad there is at least some certainty to this GST hike, which has been talked about for quite a few years. At least we will be more prepared. I thought it was going to be 9 per cent straightaway, but I guess it’s nice that they (are raising it to) 8 per cent, then 9 per cent later so it's not a shock to ordinary people.
When I heard about the increase in taxes for luxury cars, I thought that was a good idea... that by increasing tax on specific luxury goods, it would have been a better way of building up our revenue, rather than (increasing GST). Taxing certain goods that are wants and desires, and not necessarily needs, would have been a better option.
Nurultasnim: My concern about the GST increase is the medication bills (The Government will continue to absorb GST on subsidised public healthcare). My mother has a lifelong illness of schizophrenia and diabetes. It’s an expense that I will have to look into for many more years. Healthy food is also more expensive than normal food, so that’s another lifelong expense we would have to pay more for. If fuel prices increase, then my family may have to pay more for taxi expenses, too.
Sebastian: Definitely, low-income families would be concerned about the GST increase, but at least now there is certainty regarding the staggered approach, which is 8 per cent next year, and then 9 per cent in 2024. In my work as a social worker, we do share with families how to exercise financial prudence and discuss with them their income expenditure.
“I’m happy to hear that the GST hike will not take place this year... because it would be good for the market to have some stability, in order to determine its pricing and for consumers to not have that additional burden.Mrs Bernadette Giam, 35, director of corporate affairs and human resources at Creative Eateries”
TODAY: DO THE MEASURES INTRODUCED TO OFFSET THE GST INCREASE, INCLUDING THE S$6.6 BILLION ASSURANCE PACKAGE, GO FAR ENOUGH IN ASSUAGING YOUR CONCERNS OVER THE COST OF LIVING?
Bernadette: It is definitely a concern that (fewer people will be inclined to spend and dine out) after the GST increase. We understand that the cost of living is increasing pretty rapidly in this pandemic. Ensuring that we are able to retain our customers in a time when our revenues are actually still being curtailed is something that is a priority for us.
Nurultasnim: How long will (the CDC vouchers and other measures) last? I’m not sure if it’s enough. We will have to see because as my parents get older, the more illnesses they may have.
Sebastian: With the Assurance Package and the Household Support Package, I hope that could cushion the cost of living. The other aspect that I wanted to highlight is also how we could be creative. We talk about the war on diabetes, or even having a healthier lifestyle. I wonder if the Government would consider increasing taxes on items such as cigarettes and tobacco, so that they could also help us to build a more healthy society, while deterring young Singaporeans from such unhealthy tobacco and from consuming such unhealthy products… Regardless of how the Budget comes out, there might be people falling through the cracks. And this is where social workers play our part with the "many helping hands" approach.
I wanted to share about absorbing GST for publicly subsidised healthcare and education. For myself personally, I’m working full-time and I am also studying in a law school. So, my understanding is that the school fees will not rise in 2023. This will benefit people and their families or even individuals in their healthcare expenses and education, together with the GST Voucher scheme as well.
TODAY: WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON THE MEASURES INTRODUCED FOR BUSINESSES?
Bernadette: We’re looking at retraining workers with wage subsidies... it takes time, both for the employees who are being retrained and for the employers to execute a structured on-the-job training programme. The wage support for existing workers undergoing training is particularly important, so that companies can use themselves as a bit of a training ground… There wasn't such a wage-subsidy-related programme, if I got that right, and that was something I was hoping to hear.
Companies are facing very steep rising costs for energy. For example, many local (energy) retailers have gone bust and therefore companies find themselves out of a fixed-priced contract. I was hoping to hear that there would be even greater intervention by the Government to offset these high overheads. We also face strong administrative costs, such as retraining employees, who are constantly coming and going, as well as casual labour, which we've had to use a lot more of. I was hoping to hear that there will be something to offset these costs.
The closest thing would be the Jobs Growth Incentive, but it is pegged to the number of local workers having to increase month on month. With the current state of manpower volatility, (some) companies would be unable to meet that criteria.
Nevertheless, I was glad to hear that there was continued support for digitalisation and that there would be more classes of equipment being supported in the Productivity Solutions Grant... though I hope that the process of claiming grants for digitalisation will be straightforward... However easy it is to tap schemes on digital transformation, it really boils down to having the workforce to carry these projects through... There is great competition for dynamic, motivated and talented individuals... if we are talking about digitalised companies, definitely the tech companies have much more competitiveness in hiring tech talent.
Overall, we are cautiously optimistic because there's been a little bit of confidence gained from the last few months of concerted efforts on business resumption. However, I think that there's a long, long way more to go... we are definitely still very much hampered by the current (Covid-19 restrictions)... It's definitely not going to be a rosy year ahead unless... we get that steady stream of tourist arrivals back.
TODAY: WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON THE INCREASE IN THE CARBON TAX RATE? DO YOU THINK THE GOVERNMENT CAN DO MORE TO PROMOTE SUSTAINABILITY?
Bernadette: As a business, we are definitely conscious about sustainability, but a lot of the time, we have very strict budget constraints from clients that prevent us from selecting more biodegradable material. Unfortunately, packaging has been a high consumable over the course of this pandemic because there has not been enough technology research and development in this space to produce something that is of equal level of impermeability as plastic. So definitely, when these options become more readily available and cost-effective, businesses will be more able to utilise them in their business models.
Karl: From other individuals that I work with on climate change, they expected that the carbon tax would increase only up to S$15 (per tonne). But the amazing part is it is a five-fold increase. And (the increase) is quite fast — by S$25 in 2024, and then this transition to S$45 by 2026, and then eventually it is S$50 to S$80 by 2030.
But I just want to remind that the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow was talking about S$100 per tonne as the way forward for carbon tax in order to truly reduce global temperatures by 2°C in the future. You know our Government is very conservative and cautious, but we definitely have to push our boundaries, especially since we acknowledge that this is a climate emergency that will affect everybody from our food to our daily living.
On carbon capture and the technologies associated with it, I know the minister didn’t speak about it in detail, but I do know that carbon capture is still quite a new technology and we do not know of its potential to even pollute the environment and how effective it is… Is it just going to be a white elephant where they spend a lot of money just to try to capture carbon and in the end… you don’t know how safe it is?... Reducing our carbon footprint (should be) the priority.
My most important point is where is the tax on species loss? Where is the tax on biodiversity? Because we talked about carbon, and carbon is something that I know is everywhere. Biodiversity is something that is very localised to the region to every country. So why can't we have a tax on industries such as oil palm, timber, and paper and pulp that cause deforestation and species loss, or industries such as mining that cause pollution?