No More Corporal Punishment

By Nicole Eng Wei Quah (’21), Celine Lee Ka Leen (’24), and Seow Wei-Ming Luke (’24).

Although the current generation of young parents and Gen Xers are said to be less likely to spank their children [1], corporal punishment is still used in Singaporean schools. Do we really want to see the use of violence normalised in our educational institutions in today’s society? 

Corporal punishment, it seems, is very much prevalent in Singaporean schools today. While the Ministry of Education does not release statistics on the number of secondary school students that were subjected to corporal punishment, cases of corporal punishment are frequently discussed on internet forums [2], tabloid articles, and other platforms. While these punishments exist in both primary and secondary schools, our op-ed focuses on the latter. At this point, it is also essential to point out that only male pupils are caned in school [3].

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child defines corporal punishment as “any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause pain or discomfort, however light.” [4] This includes the common punishment of spanking pupils on the hand with a whip or stick, as well as slapping, biting, or even kicking. [4] It is often believed that physical discipline keeps children in line, increases their academic performance, and prevents them from developing into “unruly and uncontrollable citizens” [5].

As a colonial relic of the British legal system used to control students and to ultimately ensure compliance [6], corporal punishments in Singaporean schools perpetuate many negative aspects of our colonial history. Therefore, we argue that this archaic, ineffective, and immoral practice needs to go.

The Long-Term Consequences of Corporal Punishment 

There is little evidence that physical punishment works: in fact, studies have found that the use of physical force leads to an unconducive learning atmosphere. [7] Physical punishment causes students to participate less in class [7] and makes them want to escape from classrooms [8]. Moreover, it creates tension within the teacher-student relationship [7], worsens students’ academic performances, and increases their likelihood of dropping out of school. [8]

While corporal punishment can sometimes increase discipline in the short-term, the use of physical force extracts a heavy toll in the long-term. [9] Corporal punishment can cause children to feel inferior to their peers, leading to the development of antisocial behaviors such as lying and acting impulsively. [10] Children may also become more defensive and aggressive, as well as have a higher tendency to engage in dating violence later on in life [11], demonstrating the lasting effects of corporal punishment.

Maintaining Discipline in Schools Without Caning 

Character building in primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions should focus on encouraging students to learn from their mistakes and change their behavior accordingly. According to research conducted by the Society for Adolescent Medicine [12], corporal punishment is ineffective in achieving these goals, and has been described as being “unproductive, nullifying, and punitive.” Given the many negative consequences of using corporal punishment, how can we teach children to learn from their mistakes and correct their behaviour without inflicting physical pain?

In her 2015 article, Simuforosa [9] theorises four alternative disciplinary methods to corporal punishment. First, teachers should develop strategies to create a better learning environment, such as by setting rules on appropriate classroom behaviour. Next, students should have a stake in deciding these rules so as to increase “ownership of their learning and pride in their participation,” which will motivate them to behave more responsibly. Thirdly, teachers and students should respect each other and teachers should exhibit care, especially in communicating their expectations. Lastly, parents and teachers should work together – parents can encourage their children to abide by school rules and “accept responsibility for any misconduct on their part.”

All in all, schools should acknowledge that children cannot and should not be forced to change their behaviour through physical punishment; instead, we must emphasise communication and motivation [13].

Corporal punishment need not be a hallmark of a stellar education system or a disciplined, effective workforce. There are many Asian cities with excellent education systems that do not use corporal punishment. One example is Hong Kong, which ranked second in the 2015 OECD global school rankings [14] despite corporal punishment being banned in their schools and childcare centers [15].

Moving forward, school students should not have to fear the use of corporal punishment in schools. In fact, by banning corporal punishment, we provide students with better learning environments, enabling them to improve their academic performance. 

In conclusion, to uphold the quality of education and defend children’s rights, corporal punishment needs to be banned in schools. Schools can create lasting change by using alternative forms of discipline that emphasises enhancing communication to improve student motivation and classroom dynamics.


Endnotes

  1. Perry, Susan. “Millennials and Gen Xers Are Less Likely to Spank Their Children than Previous Generations, U of M Researchers Find,” MinnPost, July 28, 2020. https://www.minnpost.com/second-opinion/2020/07/millennials-and-gen-xers-are-less-likely-to-spank-their-children-than-previous-generations-u-of-m-researchers-find/.
  2. Chin, Felicia. “Singapore Student to Be Publicly Caned for Being Late!,” January 12, 2012. https://sg.theasianparent.com/singapore-student-to-be-publicly-caned-for-being-late.
  3. Mokhtar, Faris. “Explainer: Can Students Be Caned in Schools and Can Parents Take Action against Educators?” TODAYonline, September 6, 2019. https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/explainer-can-students-be-caned-schools-and-can-parents-take-action-against-educators.
  4. Commissioner for Human Rights, “Children and Corporal Punishment: ‘The Right Not to Be Hit, Also a Children’s Right’.” Issue Paper (Commissioner for Human Rights, January 2008).
  5. Ngussa, Baraka Manjale, and Samwel Mdalingwa. “Students’ Perception on Corporal Punishment and Its Effect on Learning: A Case of Secondary Schools in Babati Rural District, Tanzania.” Mediterranean Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences 1, no. 1 (December 7, 2017): 86.
  6. Farrell, Colin. “Corporal Punishments in Singapore Schools,” Research, World Corporal Punishment Research, 2019. https://www.corpun.com/counsgs.htm.
  7. Akhtar, Saeeda, Ghafoor Abdul, and Abudul Ghafoor Awan, “The Impact of Corporal Punishment on Students’ Performance in Public Schools.” Global Journal of Management, Social Sciences and Humanities 4, no. 3 (July 1, 2018): 606–21.
  8. Ngussa, Baraka Manjale, and Samwel Mdalingwa. “Students’ Perception on Corporal Punishment and Its Effect on Learning: A Case of Secondary Schools in Babati Rural District, Tanzania.” Mediterranean Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences 1, no. 1 (December 7, 2017): 84.
  9. Simuforosa, Magwa. “Prohibition and Elimination of Corporal Punishment: What Are the Workable Alternative Disciplinary Methods?” International Advanced Journal of Teaching and Learning 1, no. 1 (2015): 1–6.
  10. Khan, Mudasir, Amir Zada Asad, Shakeel Ahmed, and Imran Ahmed Sajid. “Students’ Perspective on Corporal Punishment: A Case Study of High Schools Students in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan.” Pakistan Journal of Criminology 6, no. 1 (2014): 103.
  11. Ngiam, Xin Ying, and Serena S. W. Tung, “The Acceptability of Caning Children in Singapore: The Fine Line Between Discipline and Physical Maltreatment.” Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics 37, no. 2 (March 2016): 158–63. https://doi.org/10.1097/DBP.0000000000000247.
  12. Greydanus, Donald E, Helen D. Pratt, C. Richard Spates, Anne E. Blake-Dreher, Marissa A. Greydanus-Gearhart, and Dilip R. Patel. “Corporal Punishment in Schools.” Journal of Adolescent Health 32, no. 5 (2003): 385–93. https://doi.org/10.1016/s1054-139x(03)00042-9.
  13. Akhtar, Saeeda, Ghafoor Abdul, and Abudul Ghafoor Awan, “The Impact of Corporal Punishment on Students’ Performance in Public Schools.” Global Journal of Management, Social Sciences and Humanities 4, no. 3 (July 1, 2018): 606–21.
  14. “Hong Kong Runs Second in Global School Rankings, OECD Says.” South China Morning Post, May 14, 2015. https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/education-community/article/1796084/hong-kong-runs-second-global-school-rankings-oecd.
  15. Chan, Wing-Cheong, “Legal Protection of Minors: Experiences of Four Common Law Jurisdictions in Asia.” Routledge Handbook of Families in Asia, 1st edition, edited by Stella R. Quah. Abingdon: Routledge, 2015: 437.

Accessing Housing in a Meritocratic Society: A Single Mother’s Reality

By Afiya Dikshit (’23) and Lim Tian Jiao (’23)

This op-ed is an extension of the policy memo WeCARE: Expanding childcare awareness to facilitate employment for single mothers.

Access to safe, stable housing is widely regarded as a fundamental right. Yet, in a country with one of the highest home ownership rates in the world, single parents in Singapore still struggle to attain affordable housing for themselves and their children.

The Problem

Singapore’s stringent housing policies are a bane for a particularly marginalized population: divorced mothers facing limited employment opportunities.

Mothers often take on the brunt of caregiving burdens in a household. During their marriages, many mothers leave the workforce—in 2018, 81% of women [1] outside of the labor force cited family responsibilities as the main reason for not seeking employment—or face reduced career progression.

The disadvantages of leaving or slowing down careers are apparent after a divorce, especially for homemakers who suddenly find themselves the sole breadwinners. Women who attempt to reenter the workforce after a long hiatus are met with few employment opportunities. For those with limited family support, childcare may constrain them [2] to poorly-paid part-time jobs, preventing them from increasing their income.

After divorce, many single mothers also sell the flats they had previously resided in or jointly owned with their ex-spouses, leaving them and their children in need of alternative housing. Given their financial constraints, it may seem clear that government provisions have to be put in place to support single mothers’ search for stable housing.

However, government housing laws are unable to bridge this gap.

The Housing Development Board (HDB) debars individuals from renting a HDB apartment within 30 months [3] of selling their previous apartment. Although this debarment period is waived for parents who have full custody of their child [4], it prevents mothers without full custody from immediately finding a safe, affordable living space if they lack the means to purchase a flat.

Furthermore, a $1,500 monthly income cap on HDB subsidized rental housing cuts off many lower-income mothers.  The Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) study found that 47.4% of respondents [3] who applied for rental housing faced difficulties because they earned more than the income cap.

Without access to stable and affordable public housing, single mothers are often forced [5] to rent on the open market at higher prices, or move in with relatives—an option that many are hesitant to turn to, for fear of conflict with or imposition on their family.

Policies Penalise Mother and Children Alike

Lack of social support for non-nuclear families can penalize single mothers for liberating themselves from toxic or abusive marriages. This disincentivizes mothers from leaving dangerous family situations, leading to worse conditions for mothers and children alike.

The time and energy mothers spend battling for housing can be better spent securing employment opportunities. Reducing barriers to housing would allow them to better participate within Singapore’s social system, helping them support their families.

Singapore’s meritocratic system should offer everyone fair educational opportunities regardless of their social background. Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore, said in 2018 that meritocracy can be indicated by every child having a “good start in life, regardless of which family they are born in.” [6]

But for children growing up in single-parent families, unstable housing and constant uncertainty are realities that hinder development. Government policy uplifts lower-income children through academic and financial assistance [7], but ignores the fact that family circumstances are inextricable from student performance. Can we expect disadvantaged children to thrive if they are left to study in cramped one-room spaces, along with rowdy younger siblings? Or what if they suffer a lack of privacy and loss of dignity on a daily basis by living with relatives who make it clear that they are not wanted in the shared space [5]?

In our meritocratic society, surely more can be done to level the playing field.

What’s Next?

Louis Ng, a Member of the Parliament of Singapore (MP), recently appealed to the Ministry of National Development (MND) to implement objective criteria on how discretionary housing applications—the category single mothers use to apply for rental post-divorce—are evaluated. This appeal was rejected on the grounds that the Government needs to exercise maximum flexibility [8] in deciding whether or not to grant appeals for each case.

However, problems in “case-by-case” judgement remain. According to AWARE’s study, of the 69% of single mothers who sought help from an MP to access public housing, 55% were unable to access it [3]. HDB officers do not always explain [3] why single mothers’ housing applications have failed, or what alternatives are available moving forward.

Surely more can be done in this regard. Instead of a fixed criteria for housing applications, MND could commit to a concise written explanation of the reasons behind failed housing appeals, and the immediate steps an applicant could take to make their next application more successful. This would give single mothers concrete actionables towards  their housing goals.

Next, the government could allocate a larger proportion of flats for rental housing. High occupancy rates of public rental housing—97.4% in 2013 [8]—suggest that demand is high. Increasing supply also ensures that families who need housing can access it.

In Singapore, policies ensuring both near-universal homeownership and an equal playing field for all have been praised locally and abroad.

We only ask that single mothers and children are fairly included in both.


Endnotes

  1. Hingorani, Shailey. “Why Are Mothers Penalised at Work?” May 15, 2019. https://www.todayonline.com/commentary/why-do-mothers-get-penalised-work.
  2. Glendinning, Emma, Catherine Smith, and Md Kadir. “Single-Parent Families in Singapore: Understanding the Challenges of Finances, Housing and Time Poverty.” Lien Centre for Social Innovation: Research, 2015.  AWARE. Single Parents’ Access to Public Housing: Findings from AWARE’s Research Project. 2016.
  3. AWARE. Single Parents’ Access to Public Housing: Findings from AWARE’s Research Project. 2016.
  4. Chan, Joanne. “Flat Debarment Period Waived for Divorcees with Children.” CNA, 24 Mar. 2017, www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/flat-debarment-period-waived-for-divorcees-with-children-8441988.
  5. Kok, Xing Hui. “Accommodate Single Parents in Housing Policies, Urges Aware.” The Straits Times, February 16, 2017. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/housing/accommodate-single-parents-in-housing-policies-urges-aware. 
  6. Kwang, Kevin. “Singapore Society Must Maintain ‘Informal and Egalitarian Tone’: PM Lee on Tackling Inequality.” Channel NewsAsia, 16 May 2018, www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore-society-must-maintain-informal-and-egalitarian-tone-pm-10239110. Accessed 7 Dec. 2020. 
  7. Ministry of Social and Family Development. Improving the Lives of Low-Income and Vulnerable Families in Singapore. November, 2018, https://www.msf.gov.sg/publications/Pages/Improving-the-Lives-of-Low-Income-and-Vulnerable-Families-in-Singapore.aspx.
  8. Ministry of National Development. “Reply by SPS Sun Xueling in Response to Adjournment Motion on ‘Providing Housing for Single Unwed Parents.’” Ministry of National Development Speeches, Ministry of National Development, 2 Sept. 2019, www.mnd.gov.sg/newsroom/parliament-matters/speeches/view/reply-by-sps-sun-xueling-in-response-to-adjournment-motion-by-mp-louis-ng-kok-kwang-(nee-soon-grc)-on-providing-housing-for-single-unwed-parents.

Image Credit: Dollars and Sense

Fostering Entrepreneurship from a Young Age

By Choo Wai Keat (’24), Dineshram Sukumar (’24), Htet Myet Min Tun (’24), Sean Low (’24), Thimali Bandara (’24), and Zen Alexander Goh (’23)

This op-ed is an extension of the policy memo Budding Entrepreneurs from a Young Age.

In today’s world, it is not uncommon to buy a new pair of shoes on Shopee and have them delivered to your doorstep via Ninja Van. We can book a ride on Grab (on a phone connected to MyRepublic’s cellular network) to sell second-hand clothes to a Carousell buyer, then enjoy a meal paid with Shopback. There’s one thing in common with all these activities—they make use of services provided by local start-ups, and they bring newfound convenience to our everyday lives.

Beyond that, we depend on startups to create quality careers for Singapore’s workforce and establish new sectors within the economy. For example, Carousell and Grab started as pioneers in the peer-to-peer e-commerce and ride-hailing sectors. Now, they are local champions that employ in excess of 3,000 professionals and empower millions more [1] to make a living through their platforms. This figure is expected to grow in the future: tech-enabled startups alone are slated to make up 2% of Singapore’s GDP by 2035 [2], on par with the tourism sector.

Given these social and economic benefits of entrepreneurship—solving long-persistent social problems and providing new jobs—it is unsurprising that the Singapore government continues to support the innovation sector through a network of dedicated grants dispersed by numerous agencies. As a result, Singapore is now amongst the best [3] in global innovation.

Yet, ironically, Singaporean youths are becoming less entrepreneurial [4]. According to the National Youth Council (NYC), Singaporeans are apprehensive about starting companies as mainstream education does not equip them [3] with a sufficiently diverse range of skills to start a successful business from scratch. Hence, there is a gap [5] between the Ministry of Education (MOE)’s desire to instill entrepreneurial dare in students and the schooling experience these students receive.

Entrepreneurship education at the pre-tertiary level remains largely underdeveloped. Disparate programs like the Tan Kah Kee Young Inventors Award [6] and limited initiatives from NYC provide scarce platforms for early entrepreneurship education. To make matters worse, these programs are not made readily accessible to all students in MOE schools. An equity problem hence arises as such opportunities are only accessible to a small pool of students already involved in entrepreneurial institutions or who are already “in the know.”

To leverage the full potential of entrepreneurship programs, we need to make them accessible to every student. However, developing and implementing a nationwide entrepreneurship subject curriculum has its fair share of difficulties. It is hindered by the need to focus on core academic subjects, and a lack of specialized instructors within MOE to ensure the program’s fruition. This deprives many students of an education in entrepreneurship and the opportunities to cultivate the skills of business.

To develop Singaporean youths’ entrepreneurial spirit, early stage education is vital. Studies by the World Bank [7] suggest that equipping students with entrepreneurial knowledge at earlier levels of education is far more effective in nurturing a student’s knack for and passion towards entrepreneurship careers.

As such, we believe that MOE should implement a nationwide entrepreneurship education programme, supported by the Enterprise Singapore and NYC—organizations which are sufficiently capable and experienced to deliver such a program. To overcome curriculum constraints, this program will operate as a Co-Curricular Activity (CCA) featuring chapters in every secondary school. Students will be exposed to the fundamentals of entrepreneurship and will have opportunities to consolidate their learning and raise money for their schools through starting social enterprises or Community Involvement Projects [8].

With MOE’s institutional support, such resources could be efficiently extended to the wider education system. The CCA system enables multiple schools to aggregate interest and coordinate larger-scale activities beyond what is feasible within individual schools by involving external collaborations and contributions, such as large-scale talks by prominent entrepreneurs, national case competitions and zone-based fundraising fairs.

Further, skills workshops will allow students to better grasp business concepts and prime them to take full advantage of the suite of initiatives the government already offers at Institutes of Higher Learning, such as startup incubators, grants, networking opportunity, and expertise. The project-based deliverables of the CCA consolidate learning in an engaging way and will develop soft skills [9] that are equally important in entrepreneurial success.

A key shortcoming of entrepreneurship education abroad is that school teachers teach the subject, even though they are not necessarily well-equipped to do so [9]. To remedy this, our proposal seeks to leverage real-world entrepreneurs as students’ mentors. Through sharings and workshops, these mentors will make entrepreneurship more relatable for aspiring students. All in all, the curriculum can empower students to believe that they have what it takes to successfully start a business, addressing the root cause [10] of lackluster entrepreneurial drive in Singaporean youths.

Given the clear returns on economic development, comparatively low operational cost, and alignment with government interest to develop the startup environment, this policy is financially viable. Furthermore, many large MOE infrastructure development projects have recently been concluded (namely the Eunoia Junior College and Singapore Management “University X” buildings). This frees up the annual budget to be directed towards developing and implementing this CCA.

In the coming years, as the region becomes more competitive, innovation and entrepreneurship will be key drivers of Singapore’s economy. It is vital for our youth to be equipped with skills, provided exposure, and ultimately be imbued with the entrepreneurial spirit necessary to navigate that future. Our industry-backed CCA program responds to all three fronts, and can lead to the creation of more life-changing platforms in the future that share Grab and Carousell’s revolutionary success.


Endnotes

  1. Lee, Yoolim. “Grab to Double Singapore Staff to 3,000 in Latest Expansion.” Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, March 29, 2019. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-03-29/grab-to-double-singapore-staff-to-3-000-in-latest-expansion.
  2. “Singapore’s Tech Enabled Startup Ecosystem”. 2015. Pwc.Com. https://www.pwc.com/sg/en/microsite/media/assets/startup-google.pdf.
  3. Dutta, Soumitra, Bruno Lanvin, and Sacha Wunsch-Vincent. Global Innovation Index. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, 2018.
  4. Seow, Joanna. “Poll: Singapore Youth Less Keen on Being Entrepreneurs than Asean Peers.” The Straits Times, August 17, 2019. https://www.straitstimes.com/business/poll-spore-youth-less-keen-on-being-entrepreneurs-than-asean-peers.
  5. Ministry of Education. “MOE FY 2017 Committee of Supply Debate Speech by Minister of Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng.” Speeches/Interviews. Accessed December 26, 2020. https://www.moe.gov.sg/news/speeches/moe-fy-2017-committee-of-supply-debate-speech-by-minister-of-education-schools-ng-chee-meng.
  6. Tan Kah Kee Foundation. “About Young Inventors’ Awards.” Tan Kah Kee Foundation. Accessed December 26, 2020. https://www.tkkfoundation.org.sg/young-inventors-awards.
  7. Valerio, Alexandria, Brent Parton, and Alicia M. Robb. Entrepreneurship Education and Training Programs around the World Dimensions for Success. Washington, DC: World Bank, 2014.
  8. Community Involvement Projects; a mandatory part of the local curriculum where students plan and carry out projects that benefit their immediate community. Projects range from food drives to service learning trips abroad.
  9. Neck, Heidi M., and Andrew C. Corbett. 2018. “The Scholarship Of Teaching And Learning Entrepreneurship”. Entrepreneurship Education And Pedagogy 1 (1): 8-41. doi:10.1177/2515127417737286.
  10. Ács Zoltán J., and Szerb László. The Global Entrepreneurship Index (GEINDEX). Boston: Now Publishers, 2009.

Image Credit: Martin Choo

Silver Support Scheme for More

By Aamir Bana (’24), Kelly Hui (’24), and Matthew Ling (’24)

Many elderly in Singapore face income insecurity in their retirement. To address this, we suggest that the Silver Support (SS) Scheme and Central Provident Fund (CPF) have a minimum combined pay-out amount of S$1,379 for low-income elderly — the minimum amount for a dignified retirement.

Background and Analysis

Why are the Elderly Still Working?

More and more elderly Singaporeans (aged 65 and above) are continuing to work; the employment rate for elderly citizens almost doubled from 2006 to 2018. As of 2019, about 1 in 4 elderly are working [1]. So why do the elderly spend their golden years employed?

Research suggests that for some, retirement is financially unfeasible. A recent study analysing the monthly financial decisions and considerations of elderly Singaporeans estimated that to pay for monthly basic necessities, elderly who are single require S$1,379 and elderly couples require S$2,351. [3]

How Does the State Currently Support the Elderly?

The Singapore Government has initiatives in place to support the elderly financially. The CPF account and the SS Scheme are two ways through which the State intervenes.

The CPF is a compulsory savings scheme and pension plan that requires employees to set aside 20% of their monthly income, and employers to top up an additional 17% of their pay. In addition to being used for healthcare, housing, and other purposes, CPF plays an integral role in helping workers set savings aside for retirement. At the age of 55, one can withdraw from their Retirement Account (with limits on when and how much one can draw).

The SS scheme provides quarterly cash pay-outs of S$1,200 to S$3,000 a year for the elderly within the bottom 20% income bracket.

Is This Enough?

According to the above study, many elderly recipients still do not receive the S$1,379 a month required for dignified living, even with their CPF and SS payouts combined.

The study noted that approximately half of the retirees in Singapore do not receive even the basic CPF annuity of less than S$800 per month — in 2018, persons aged 65-69 years old were paid $450 per month on average. Those aged 80-87 received just S$220 per month on average. [3] Accordingly, in 2011, it was found that CPF and other annuities accounted for just 13% of elderly’s income, with public assistance such as ComCare and the SS Scheme accounting for 2%. [3] For a fuller discussion of elderly’s various income sources, see Annex A.

One reason for this inadequacy is that the current regime gatekeeps its public assistance schemes very strictly — only the very poor are eligible for state support, excluding elderly who do not technically meet the eligibility criteria for the scheme.

We believe that state support should be a safety net, not a means of last resort. The Government can and should do more.

Talking Points

  • By 2050, elderly Singaporeans will account for nearly 1 in 3 Singaporean citizens [4]. With an ageing population, there should be a fundamental safety net available for all retired elderly to lead a dignified life. 
  • There is a quantifiable income standard for a dignified living. A study titled “What older people need in Singapore: a household budgets study” suggests that single elderly (aged above 65 years) require S$1,379 a month, while elderly couples require S$2,351 a month. 
  • Work, family, and savings can be the first line of income source, but those who cannot sufficiently rely on these should be able to seek additional support from the Government. Specifically, the CPF (a retirement savings scheme) and the SS Scheme (top-up for the CPF) are insufficient as a long-term income source for the retired elderly. 
  • Current state schemes emphasise the need to prove poverty due to intense gatekeeping. As a result, welfare is seen as an undignified means of last resort rather than a basic right.

The Policy Idea

First, we propose that recipients of the SS scheme be awarded a top-up from the CPF Board, should their combined payout from both their CPF monthly payouts and the SS scheme be below S$1,379 per month. This top-up would be calibrated to provide the difference between the S$1,379 required for dignified living and the total amount of money which one receives through SS scheme and their monthly CPF withdrawal. In light of the government’s obligation to support the elderly who have contributed to Singaporean society during their working years, this difference should be funded by the CPF Board.

Secondly, we propose that eligibility for SS should now be determined by age, monthly CPF pay-out, and employment status of the person applying, without taking into consideration housing type or level of familial support. Furthermore, seniors should be able to appeal for admittance into the scheme.

Policy Analysis

Through these recommendations, we aim to expand upon the SS scheme and CPF, which were set up by the Government in service of low-income seniors.

We believe that increased CPF payouts for the bottom 20% of elderly Singaporeans should be well within the ambit of the CPF’s duties, since the Fund was conceived to last Singaporeans throughout their entire retirement. In cases where state support is insufficient, the Government should top-up their payouts using internal funds. Doing so allows the state to acknowledge its responsibility to these low-income older citizens, whilst also allowing them to reap the benefits of not having to expend additional resources on the social, mental and physical health problems which might arise as a result of elderly overwork or having insufficient finances for dignified living.

We also believe that by removing housing type and total income criteria from the SS scheme, we mitigate problems such as (1) low-income elderly having to liquidate their assets or downsize their homes to qualify for the scheme, or (2) low-income elderly being ineligible for the scheme by virtue of their family having resources which the elderly might not necessarily own, have access to, or can legally lay claim to.

Our policy does have some intrinsic limitations. Our revision ignores the income the retired elderly may receive from their adult children or draw from their personal savings, as the state has no reasonable means by which to unobtrusively gauge these sums. However, the assumption that elderly receive sufficient and regular incomes from their children at all is a flawed one, as is the assumption that all elderly possess sufficient private savings. While there will be some who take advantage of the system’s relaxed criterion, we believe that allowing a few free-riders to unfairly benefit is preferable to denying financial support to the elders who need it to attain a dignified retirement.

Under this policy, basic living standards would be a right, not a privilege. Taken together, these revisions would ensure that seniors will not be required to work past retirement age. While this policy does not seek to disincentivise work, it turns employment into a choice. We seek to create a vision of dignified retirement where elderly citizens are not completely beholden to their children, forced to downsize homes, nor coerced into working into their twilight years.

Key Facts

  • The payout for the CPF and SS policies combined will add up to at least S$1,379 a month for the retired elderly by increasing CPF payouts.
  • The policy will apply to those who are currently eligible for the SS scheme, which is targeted at the bottom 20% of low-income elderly. People can appeal to ensure there are no false barriers or excessive gate-keeping. 
  • Removing the housing type criteria of the current SS scheme will help recipients, who no longer need to prove their poverty by demonstrating that they do not have valuable assets they can liquidate such as homes, nor will there be a presumption that family members, estranged or otherwise, will be a source of support. Unlike the SS scheme, this policy will simply consider age, CPF contributions, and current employment status.

Annex A

By 2050, Singaporeans aged 65 and above will constitute 33.3% of Singaporean Citizens [4]. With the average lifespan of Singaporeans being 84.8 years [5], that leaves most Singaporeans reliant on one of five main sources of income for the remaining 20 years of their life: money from adult children; wage work; CPF and other annuities; private pension; and public assistance.

It is not enough to consider where the elderly get their money from, but how much money is required to lead a dignified retirement that includes the cost of holidays as well as healthcare. 

In the study “What Older People Need in Singapore,” academics interviewed and analysed the financial decisions and considerations made on a monthly basis by 103 elderly Singaporeans. By examining their lived realities, these academics quantified that elderly (above 65 years of age) who are single require S$1,379 a month, while elderly couples require S$2,351 a month. Singles aged between 55 to 64 require S$1,721 [3].

With a specific dollar value, it is clearer to assess whether the sources of income for the retired elderly are sufficient and sustainable. The discussion below highlights briefly, including some of the core concerns with the current welfare and support structure.

Reliance on Children

The Singapore philosophy to welfare has always been “the family as a first line of support” [6]. Thus the state has actively promoted self-reliance before state-reliance. The result has been that “the most common income source (for the retired elderly) is adult children (78% of elderly people reported such income in 2011)” [3]. This places the burden of care squarely on adult children who may not have the means or desire to support their elderly parents. It presupposes every family unit is the same and must be able to financially support the retired elderly. This model can exacerbate inter-generational poverty, since those from a lower economic background struggle to support their own immediate family, and is demographically unsustainable, as more people have fewer or no children.

Wage Work: Merits and Demerits

As people age, it is only natural that their capacity to work dwindles. However, due to income insecurity, a significant population of elderly people must continue working. Nearly 21% of the retired elderly had work wages as their primary source of income in their retirement years [3]. The issue is for those who have to work because they cannot make ends meet rather than those who choose to work. 

Singapore implemented a Progressive Wage Model, which is in fact a guaranteed minimum wage for three specific industries: cleaning, landscape, and security. There are plans to expand it further. Research has found that the median income of “three most common jobs among older workers range from 0.9 to 1.2 times” the minimum budget that is required to live dignified lives [3]. While there is growing consensus that the mandated minimum income is a great step towards the right direction, it forces elderly individuals who lack sufficient sources of income to sustain their retirement through work. The policy protects those who choose to work, but the question it raises is whether wage work becomes the default expectation for those who are unable to sustain dignified lives. There will always be those who are unable to work due to declining health, disability, or care work. They will then have to rely on the state. 

Barriers to Welfare

Only 2% of retired elderly rely on the state directly as a source of income [3]. This is because policies have been designed with intense gate-keeping, where poverty needs to constantly be proved and verified by a bureaucracy, whose primary aim is to ensure that others (such as estranged children, civic organisations) step in as long-term support structures. The state’s goal is to be a temporary source of income, and thus pegs its payouts to sustained employment and identifies household types as indicators of wealth and prosperity.  This strands the retired elderly who are asset-rich but cash-poor. Welfare is not considered a right but a temporary privilege, to be revoked at the slightest sign that those who are barely able to get by are beginning to make ends meet. 

Central Provident Fund (CPF)

In 2013, it was found that only 55% of persons turning 55 had enough savings to fulfil the Basic Retirement Sum [3]. This translates to the fact that “around half of retirees will not receive even the basic annuity of less than S$800 per month.” Indeed in 2018, the CPF paid an average of S$450 per month to persons aged 65 to 69 years old, S$290 to those aged 70 to 79 years old, and just S$220 to those aged 80 to 87 years old [3]. As a source of income, it is targeted at augmenting alternative sources of income and not serve as the primary source of income. These cash payments are the savings made by Singaporeans throughout their years of employment. For those who earn less as a result of low-income wage work, their CPF will also correspondingly have lesser savings. The Government has policies to top-up the accounts of those whose CPF is lacking. However, the top-up is only for those who fulfil the most stringent conditions. The CPF is not a guaranteed pension scheme and cannot be fully relied on to ensure a dignified life. 

If not family and work, Government

The Government does not issue handouts easily. Through intense “gate-keeping”, they deter people from seeking direct cash support. The policies that are the most generous require the most intrusive means to prove that you can qualify for it. These include in-person interviews and other administrative roadblocks to deter families in crisis, leaving only the very desperate. ComCare, the most generous scheme, “reaches less than 1% of the elderly population” [3]. Other schemes such as the SS Scheme and Goods and Services Tax voucher can only “add up to around half of the single elderly household budget” [3]. There is a constant contest between “universalism” and “generosity”.  The more universal a scheme is, the less generous it’ll be, as seen in the SS Scheme, where the barriers to application are low. The less universal and more restrictive the scheme, the more generous it’ll be, as evidenced by ComCare. These policies are thought of as welfare rather than a basic right to a dignified life, and thus is not guaranteed in the same way education is in Singapore. This explains why only 2% of those who responded to the survey in 2011 listed it as their primary source of income.


Endnotes

  1. Liew, Maegan. 2019. “Seniors at work: The new norm for ageing in Singapore.” ASEAN Today. February 14, 2019. https://www.aseantoday.com/2019/02/seniors-at-work-the-new-norm-for-ageing-in-singapore/#:~:text=In%20Singapore%20today%2C%20one%20in,has%20hit%2040%25%20by%202015.
  2. Mokhtar, Faris. 2019. “Retirement and re-employment ages to be raised by 3 years, CPF contribution rates for older workers to go up.” Today, August 18, 2019. https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/govt-raise-retirement-age-65-and-re-employment-age-70-2030-cpf-contribution-rates-older.
  3. Ng, Kok Hoe, Teo You Yenn and Neo Yu Wei. 2019. “ What older people need in Singapore: a household budgets study. What older people need in Singapore: a household budgets study” ScholarbBank@NUS Repository : 1-70. https://scholarbank.nus.edu.sg/handle/10635/157643.
  4. Statista. 2019. “Forecasted share of the population aged 65 years and above in Singapore in 2019, 2030 and 2050.” Statista, October, 2019. https://www.statista.com/statistics/713663/singapore-forecast-aging-population/
  5. Straits Times. 2019. “Singaporeans have world’s longest life expectancy at 84.8 years.” Straits Times, June 20, 2019. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/singapore-tops-in-life-expectancy-at-848-years.
  6. Tan, Chuan Jin. 2015. “Speech By Mr Tan Chuan-Jin At Social Service Partners Conference 2015.” https://www.msf.gov.sg/media-room/Pages/Speech-by-Mr-Tan-Chuan-Speech-by-Mr-Tan-Chuan-Jin-at-Social-Service-Partners-Conference-2015.aspx.

Image credit: Flickr | Joan Campderrós-i-Canas

Budding Entrepreneurs from a Young Age

By Choo Wai Keat (’24), Dineshram Sukumar (’24), Htet Myet Min Tun (’24), Sean Low (’24), Thimali Bandara (’24), and Zen Alexander Goh (’23)

Young Singaporeans lack exposure to entrepreneurial activity, leading to a general sentiment that they are not equipped for the endeavours of entrepreneurship [1]. To counter this, the Ministry of Education (MOE) should set up a dedicated body overseeing entrepreneurship education at secondary and pre-tertiary levels to increase exposure to entrepreneurial activities.

Background and Analysis

The Global Innovation Index consistently names Singapore as one of the top 10 strongest innovation sectors globally by government support and business ecosystem [2]. Yet, Singaporean youths still lag behind their ASEAN counterparts in entrepreneurial drive, highlighting Singapore’s overall lacklustre entrepreneurial landscape [3]. This could be traced back to the fact that Singaporean youths lack exposure to entrepreneurship in the mainstream education system, which mainly prepares students for the labour market. In the current education system, students are either (1) closed off to entrepreneurship as a viable career, or (2) unconfident of their skills in starting a business, even if they have the interest. These shortcomings carry socio-economic consequences—from prospective entrepreneurs missing out on their dreams, to society potentially missing out on the next billion-dollar idea and the jobs tied to it.

To draw a distinction between actual entrepreneurship and other forms of self/informal employment (e.g. gig economy micro-entrepreneurship, direct selling, etc.), entrepreneurship is defined as “the activities of an individual or a group aimed at initiating economic activities in the formal sector under a legal form of business” [4]. Given the importance of the innovation sector, encouraging entrepreneurship has been a key policy thrust of the government. However, current initiatives of startup incubators, grants and enterprise programs do not target the root cause of the problem and hence have been insufficient in improving the entrepreneurial landscape. These programs are mostly focused on helping entrepreneurs at universities scale up their businesses while there are limited avenues for Singaporean youths to acquire startup skills, particularly at the pre-university level. This creates a knowledge gap where students interested in entrepreneurship cannot find avenues to progressively develop their skill set before being thrown into the deep end. Additionally, these programs are only impactful for a small group of participants; the wider mass of students remain unexposed to entrepreneurship. The flaws of the existing schemes, therefore, perpetuate the problem of entrepreneurship being an overly niche path open to only a select few.

With entrepreneurship recognised as an effective means for countries to nurture homegrown enterprise champions and create jobs, pedagogies for entrepreneurship education are at the forefront of discourse in many European educational institutes; these offer a playbook for Singapore to adapt from. There are three ways to teach entrepreneurship: Education for Entrepreneurship involves imparting concrete business skills to students with a focus on starting a business; Education about Entrepreneurship implies learning about entrepreneurship as a socio-economic phenomenon; Education through Entrepreneurship connotes developing soft business skills in students through project work [5]. Each of these pedagogies have different uses and some are already being implemented at the more progressive private schools in Singapore. However, students in mainstream public schools are still systematically excluded.

Therefore, encouraging entrepreneurship education in Singapore is not so much about reinventing pedagogies, but adapting established methodologies such that entrepreneurial education becomes accessible to all.

Talking Points

  1. A Central Body for Entrepreneurship Education: A central dedicated body is tasked to expose students to entrepreneurship through mentorship, experiential opportunities and activities early on, before they steer away from entrepreneurship indefinitely.
  2. Engaging Local Entrepreneurs Directly: Partnering Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and leveraging the resources of the National Youth Council (NYC) to run this program enables direct access to Singapore’s entrepreneurs in different sectors, facilitates immersive experiences for students within the entrepreneurship ecosystem, and streamlines the process of engaging entrepreneurs.
  3. A Student-Driven Entrepreneurship Community: Networking student members of individual school clubs at the zone level opens up opportunities for ground-up collaboration. This creates a conducive, encouraging and accessible community environment to spark ideas and network, closely mirroring the entrepreneurship community at large.

The Policy Idea

To provide entrepreneurship education to all students who are keen, Singapore’s MOE should partner with ESG [6] to establish an industry-backed, centrally managed entrepreneurship interest group. This group, the Organisation for Entrepreneurial Incubation (OEI), should be open to all secondary school students.

Governmental Organisation and Interest

ESG provides direct industry access and engages entrepreneurs to facilitate this program’s execution. Concerned with developing the start-up space in Singapore, ESG would hence be interested to groom potential entrepreneurs during their formative years.

Simultaneously, MOE itself desires to build ‘entrepreneurial dare’ [7] within students.

Between MOE and ESG, responsibilities concerning the initial implementation and longer-term operations of such a system-wide are tentatively divided as follows;

The National Youth Council (NYC) runs its own calendar of entrepreneurship-oriented programs, with a good fielding of panelists, advisors and partner businesses [8]. As NYC is an existing partner with MOE [9], it is an avenue from which to leverage resources for the broader school system. This widens the reach of NYC’s resources, resulting in greater, coordinated progress in entrepreneurship education.

Policy Analysis

Using a combined pedagogy of Education for Entrepreneurship and Education through Entrepreneurship will improve entrepreneurial attitudes by increasing students’ willingness and ability to pursue entrepreneurship as a career [10]. Technical skills workshops allow students to better grasp business concepts and prime them to take full advantage of the initiatives already offered at universities [11]. The project component of the curriculum consolidates learning in an engaging way and is instrumental in developing soft skills [12] that are equally important for entrepreneurial success. Together, the curriculum empowers students to believe they have what it takes to successfully start a business, addressing a root cause of lacklustre entrepreneurial drive in Singaporean youths [13].

Having this Entrepreneurship Club in secondary schools means nurturing students’ interest in entrepreneurship early on: important because students’ interest in entrepreneurship falls with each grade level, according to a US Gallup poll [14]. The non-highstake environment we propose allows for an atmosphere where failure is accepted and not harshly criticised. This mindset of being ‘open to risk and failure’ has been shown to be crucial to entrepreneurship [15] and important in life. The Entrepreneurship Club is efficient because the resources spent on it will only be used on those who are actually interested in entrepreneurship, and its flexibility means that participation in it will not hinder students’ academics or other passions.

To ensure accountability and equal and efficient spread of resources, the Entrepreneurship Club will function in each school as a chapter of a larger umbrella organisation. This central body will act as the bridge between various stakeholders, responsible for quality control and budget allocation across schools. Having this larger dedicated body—committed with specialised full-time staff to monitor individual Entrepreneurship Clubs—ensures they are run effectively for a long period of time. Notably, school-level clubs will be connected within their school clusters to expand entrepreneurial networks, facilitating cooperation and interaction and leveraging common resource pools. This further allows for collaboration across all schools in Singapore, thereby allowing students the experience of real-world collaboration, and also provides them with exposure to other youth and their ideas. This can act as a motivation for youth.

Having academic teachers teach entrepreneurship is one of the main shortcomings of entrepreneurship education case studies abroad. Our policy overcomes this by leveraging real-world entrepreneurs of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as mentors for the students. These mentors make entrepreneurship more intimate and relatable for aspiring students, making students more likely to view an entrepreneurial career more favourably. These entrepreneurs would carry out workshops on specific skills, or share about their entrepreneurial journey. Our policy recognises and leverages on the vested interests of these stakeholders (industry partners and entrepreneurs) in having a developed entrepreneurial scene. We are confident that the networking opportunities available when working with the government will be sufficient motivation for SME entrepreneurs, as shown by existing NYC partner members. Furthermore, participating entrepreneurs will have access to a pool of talented youth.

Key Facts

Studies indicate that the most important factor in determining whether one opts in to entrepreneurship is the individual’s perceived skills to succeed as an entrepreneur [16]. Yet, according to 2012 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) surveys, only 26.6% of surveyed Singaporean youths felt that they had the skills and technical expertise needed to start a business [17]. Likewise, Singapore ranked 23 out of 25 selected innovation-driven economies on an index meant to measure perceived entrepreneurial skills in graduates [18]. Therefore, it is fair to consider the lack of entrepreneurial skills training as a significant obstacle to entrepreneurial spirit in the Singaporean youth.


Endnotes

  1. “Youth Conversations Digital Sensing”. 2020. National Youth Council. https://www.nyc.gov.sg/en/initiatives/resources/youth-conversations/.
  2. “Singapore’s IP Ranking”. 2020. IPOS. https://www.ipos.gov.sg/who-we-are/singapore-ip-ranking.
  3. Seow, Joanna. 2019. “Poll: Singapore Youth Less Keen On Being Entrepreneurs Than Asean Peers”. The Straits Times. https://www.straitstimes.com/business/poll-spore-youth-less-keen-on-being-entrepreneurs-than-asean-peers.
  4. Marcotte, Claude. 2013. “Measuring Entrepreneurship At The Country Level: A Review And Research Agenda”. Entrepreneurship & Regional Development 25 (3-4): 174-194. doi:10.1080/08985626.2012.710264.
  5. Johansen, Vegard. 2012. “Entrepreneurship Education In Secondary Education And Training”. Scandinavian Journal Of Educational Research 57 (4): 357-368.
  6. Enterprise Singapore is a statutory board tasked with nurturing homegrown businesses, including startups.
  7. Ng, Chee Meng. 2017. “Wanted: Joy Of Learning, Entrepreneurial Dare In Students”. The Straits Times. https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/wanted-joy-of-learning-entrepreneurial-dare-in-students.
  8. NYC Members: https://www.nyc.gov.sg/en/about-us/#members
  9. NYC Partners: https://www.nyc.gov.sg/omw/partners
  10. Moberg, Kåre. 2014. “Two Approaches To Entrepreneurship Education: The Different Effects Of Education For And Through Entrepreneurship At The Lower Secondary Level”. The International Journal Of Management Education 12 (3): 512-528. doi:10.1016/j.ijme.2014.05.002.
  11. Startup incubators, grants, networking opportunity, expertise
  12. Such as public speaking, communication, networking, project management
  13. Students lack confidence to start own business, even if they initially wanted to: cite GEINDEX
  14. Gallup, Inc. 2020. “Minority, Young Students More Entrepreneurially Inclined”. Gallup.Com. https://news.gallup.com/poll/166808/minority-young-students-entrepreneurially-inclined.aspx.
  15. “Why Should We Bring Entrepreneurship Education To Schools?”. 2020. Skillsforthefuture.Eu. http://skillsforthefuture.eu/get-inspired/580-why-should-we-bring-entrepreneurship-education-to-schools.html.
  16. Gomulya, David. 2015. “Entrepreneurship In Singapore: Growth And Challenges”. The Entrepreneurial Rise In Southeast Asia, 35-67.
  17. Gomulya, David. 2015. “Entrepreneurship In Singapore: Growth And Challenges”. The Entrepreneurial Rise In Southeast Asia, 35-67.
  18. Gomulya, David. 2015. “Entrepreneurship In Singapore: Growth And Challenges”. The Entrepreneurial Rise In Southeast Asia, 35-67.

Image Credit: Unsplash | Alesia Kazantceva

Improving Access to Mental Health Resources for Migrant Construction Workers in Singapore

By Nicole Quah (’21), Celine Lee (’24), and Luke Seow (’24)

CONTENT WARNING: MENTIONS OF SELF-HARM AND SUICIDE

Lack of mental health education and employer behaviour regulation has created a mental health crisis among migrant construction workers in Singapore. Therefore, we must raise awareness on the importance of mental health in Singapore and encourage collaboration between non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the government.

Background and Analysis

With over 300,000 foreign migrant workers on work permits [1] as of June 2020, migrant workers’ importance to the Singaporean economy is indisputable. [2] Yet, despite being essential, migrant workers have often been the subject of social, spatial, and institutional exclusions, leading to an unequal incorporation of migrant bodies in the city-state on the basis of their ‘transient’ status. [3]

Migrant workers’ access to mental health is one aspect that has long been neglected. This is especially concerning as migrant workers are uniquely susceptible to mental illness as a result of their work conditions. A 2015 study conducted by the Singapore Management University (SMU) discovered that 62% of the sampled migrant workers met the screening criteria for a Serious Mental Illness, as poor living conditions, the threat of deportation, and separation from their families, along with other reasons, make migrant workers particularly susceptible to mental health issues. [4]

These issues have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Singapore’s successes in containing its community transmissions has been marred by its treatment of migrant workers, who are segregated in dormitories where heavy movement restrictions are imposed. The isolation of migrant workers in dormitories for long periods of time without guaranteed payment has led to financial insecurity and feelings of entrapment. [5] There have been numerous self-harm incidents and suicides amongst the community over the past few months [6], though there are no official statistics or publicly accessible investigations into their causes.

Yet the mental health system available to migrant workers appears to be woefully inadequate.

Migrant workers often lack awareness of the available healthcare resources in general, compromising their access to care. A 2013 survey of 433 non-domestic migrant workers [7] found that only 27.6% of the respondents received or were aware of company-bought medical insurance. Of those, 67.7% reported that the information was not communicated in their native language. This gap is compounded within the context of mental health treatment, which is inaccessible to many migrant workers due to the enduring unaffordability of most treatments and the scarcity of affordable, NGO-provided ones.

Mental health treatment is often prohibitively expensive for migrant workers as it is excluded from the minimum health insurance coverage that employers are mandated to provide for migrant workers covered under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. [8] While employers have the option to purchase additional riders that cover mental health, most do not. Since current legislation does not require employers to cover mental health costs, mental health issues are not considered as “emergency medical services”, and coverage is “highly dependent on employers’ goodwill”. [9] As a result, most forms of mental health treatment are prohibitively expensive for migrant workers.

Additionally, affordable forms of mental health support for migrant workers are limited. Currently, NGOs provide the bulk of affordable mental health services for migrant workers. NGOs such as the Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC) has a 24-hour helpline manned by the organisation’s staff for workers who require any form of assistance, while medical NGO Healthserve provides a mental wellness hotline where workers can access medical information and submit requests for tele-counselling sessions conducted by trained volunteers.

Talking Points

  1. Migrant workers are more susceptible to mental illnesses due to the threat of deportation, financial burden, and poor working conditions, but their medical insurance currently does not cover mental health treatments.
  2. Further, the majority of migrant workers are unaware of their medical rights as their employers rarely disclose information on how to access medical resources, let alone mental health resources.
  3. To address these vulnerabilities, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) should provide manpower and financial support to NGOs currently providing mental health resources to migrant workers and require employers to purchase insurance for mental health services for them. Additionally, the state could consider creating a channel that disseminates awareness of aforementioned mental health services and other mental health-related information.

The Policy Idea

We recommend that the MOM could alleviate the burdens faced by migrant construction workers by (1) providing manpower and financial support to NGOs currently providing mental health resources; (2) requiring employers to purchase insurance for mental health services for their employees and; (3) creating a channel that disseminates mental health-related information to migrant workers.

More details are provided in Annexes A and B.

Policy Analysis

Firstly, we recommend that the state considers upscaling existing mental health services provided by NGOs. Singapore’s NGOs have spent years catering to the mental health needs of the migrant worker population. As case workers from these NGOs work with migrant workers on a daily basis, they are more familiar with migrant workers and their needs [10] and are broadly considered to be more trustworthy and approachable than their state counterparts [11].

However, given that there are approximately 300,000 migrant construction workers, NGOs do not have sufficient employees to meet all their needs. Demand is substantial; within two months of launching the hotline, Healthserve had received more than 4,000 enquiries and 300 workers signing up for tele-counselling sessions. [12] As such, an expansion of mental health services for them is necessary.

It would be ideal for the state to help migrant workers via NGOs by providing financial support to train a larger pool of volunteers and employing professional manpower (e.g. counselors) for migrant workers.

Secondly, the MOM should mandate that employers purchase insurance for mental health services for their employees covered under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act and bear the full cost of this insurance. Though the state might face resistance from employers unwilling to bear extra health insurance costs for migrant workers, ignoring this mental health crisis will create widespread negative consequences. For example, leaving the crisis unaddressed could lead to indirect costs of illness and loss of productivity among migrant workers. Furthermore, the lack of health rights given to migrant workers could also “undermine Singapore’s reputation as a regional and global economic hub” and leave wider repercussions in the long-term. [13]

Finally, the MOM should work with employers and dormitory operators to create a distribution channel that disseminates information, both online and via pamphlets and posters, about mental health, such as how to identify mental illness and where and how to seek help when ill. [14] Information should be circulated online (via WhatsApp, WeChat, and other relevant social media platforms) and via pamphlets and posters, which should be put around dormitories to ensure that migrant workers receive information about mental health resources. These should be emphasised in the standard orientation briefing when the workers first arrive in Singapore, and dormitory operators should be required to publicise the information. To increase transparency and ensure that employers do not disregard the mental health needs of migrant workers after the orientation briefing session, the MOM should legally require that employers and dormitory owners print and display mental health posters in multiple languages.

The provision of mental health awareness has been proven to be beneficial to the migrant worker population. In recent years, a social platform, “Pangyao”, has been successfully used in Hong Kong and Macau to disseminate mental health information. A similar channel could be implemented in Singapore, resolving information asymmetry between employers and employees.

There is a lack of emphasis on mental health issues among the general Singaporean population. The lack of mental health resources and mental health literacy among Singaporeans reflect a wider social issue. [15] If the state elects to emphasise the mental health issues of a very vulnerable and marginalised population, we can subsequently ignite a national conversation on mental health awareness in general.

Key Facts

  1. Currently, employers are required to purchase a minimum health insurance coverage of SGD 15,000 per worker per year. [16] However, this insurance should increase to include mental health services. Employers should not be allowed to pass this additional financial burden on to migrant workers.
  2. Posters that detail mental health resources available to migrant workers should be distributed on each floor of every block in migrant worker dormitories. Information on mental health resources should also be printed in a booklet disseminated to migrant workers during their orientation conducted by the MOM when they first arrive, to ensure that they are aware of the resources available.
  3. Currently, there are approximately 8 psychologists and 4 psychiatrists per 100,000 people in Singapore. [17] Given that there are approximately 300,000 migrant workers on work permits [18], at least 24 psychologists and 12 psychiatrists should be allocated to the community to provide counselling sessions and treat mental health illnesses. These could either be professional manpower or university students majoring in clinical psychology.

Annex A: Expansion of Migrant Worker Mental Health Provisions

If NGOs confirm that there needs to be an expansion of mental health resources provided to migrant workers, we suggest that possible expansion efforts include hiring additional mental health professionals for migrant workers. These professionals must speak different languages to cater to the needs of migrant workers.

In addition to hiring professionals, another possibility would be for the MOM to establish a traineeship program with NGOs to increase the volunteer pool. Students from universities (such as the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University) training to become counsellors can have part-time or full-time traineeships at NGOs, where they help listen to the problems of migrant workers and assist them in getting the help they need. The MOM and the Ministry of Health should support this effort through the form of a grant or subsidy provided to NGOs. Also, the MOM should fund the traineeships. This will increase the number of psychologists and psychiatrists for migrant workers, so that they can access counselling and mental health treatment options.

Annex B: Distribution Channels

We recommend that the MOM work with NGOs to create a distribution channel that circulates information about mental health conditions, resources, and treatments. This information should be distributed through brochures, posters, social media pages, and other online platforms that migrant workers use. These sources should also be made available in different languages to ensure that the information is fully comprehensible to all migrant workers. The first step to establishing this distribution channel would be to incorporate it into the standard orientation briefing conducted by the MOM when the foreign migrants first arrive in Singapore. In addition to workshops on First Aid practices and workplace safety measures, all migrant workers would be required to attend a 30-minute Mental Health Awareness session, in which a resource pack would be handed to each worker (in their native language).

The resource pack would contain the following information:

  • a clear explanation on what mental health is;
  • a list of common mental illnesses and their symptoms;
  • a comprehensive action guide on what to do and who to seek help from when symptoms are identified;
  • the addresses, phone numbers, and other information on at least three easily accessible mental health clinics, and;
  • details on the workers’ healthcare coverage and insurance policies.

Endnotes

  1. Excluding Foreign Domestic Workers
  2. Ministry of Manpower. “Foreign Workforce Numbers.” Government. Ministry of Manpower Singapore. Accessed October 11, 2020. https://www.mom.gov.sg/documents-and-publications/foreign-workforce-numbers.
  3. Neo, Jaclyn L. “Riots and Rights: Law and Exclusion in Singapore’s Migrant Worker Regime.” Asian Journal of Law and Society 2, no. 1 (May 2015): 137–68. https://doi.org/10.1017/als.2015.1.
  4. Harrigan, Nicholas M, and Koh Chiu Yee. “Vital Yet Vulnerable: Mental and Emotional Health of South Asian Migrant Workers in Singapore.” Lien Center for Social Innovation, 2015.
  5. Yea, Sallie. “This Is Why Singapore’s Coronavirus Cases Are Growing: A Look inside the Dismal Living Conditions of Migrant Workers.” The Conversation, April 30, 2020. http://theconversation.com/this-is-why-singapores-coronavirus-cases-are-growing-a-look-inside-the-dismal-living-conditions-of-migrant-workers-136959.
  6. Aravindan, John Geddie, Aradhana. “Spate of Suicides among Migrant Workers in Singapore Raises Concern.” Reuters, August 6, 2020. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-singapore-migrants-idUSKCN2510QP.
  7. Ang, Jia Wei, Colin Chia, Calvin J Koh, Brandon W B Chua, Shyamala Narayanaswamy, Limin Wijaya, Lai Gwen Chan, Wei Leong Goh, and Shawn Vasoo. “Healthcare-Seeking Behaviour, Barriers and Mental Health of Non-Domestic Migrant Workers in Singapore.” BMJ Global Health 2, no. 2 (March 2017): e000213. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjgh-2016-000213.
  8. Ministry of Manpower. “Medical Insurance Requirements for Foreign Worker.” Ministry of Manpower Singapore. Accessed October 11, 2020. https://www.mom.gov.sg/passes-and-permits/work-permit-for-foreign-worker/sector-specific-rules/medical-insurance.
  9. Rajaraman, Natarajan, Teem-Wing Yip, Benjamin Yi Hern Kuan, and Jeremy Fung Yen Lim. “Exclusion of Migrant Workers from National UHC Systems—Perspectives from HealthServe, a Non-Profit Organisation in Singapore.” Asian Bioethics Review, August 3, 2020: 370. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41649-020-00138-y.
  10. The Global Development Research Center. “NGOs: Advantages and Disadvantages.” Accessed December 30, 2020. http://www.gdrc.org/ngo/advan-disadvan.html.
  11. Poh, Yong Han. “Singapore’s Migrant Worker Debate: Advocacy Amid a Pandemic.” The Diplomat, April 12, 2020. https://thediplomat.com/2020/04/singapores-migrant-worker-debate-advocacy-amid-a-pandemic/.
  12. Health Serve. “Health Serve Annual Report 2019.” Health Serve, 2019.
  13. Harrigan, Nicholas M, and Koh Chiu Yee. “Vital Yet Vulnerable: Mental and Emotional Health of South Asian Migrant Workers in Singapore.” Lien Center for Social Innovation, 2015.
  14. Tam, Wai Jia, Wei Leong Goh, Jeffrey Chua, and Helena Legido-Quigley. “健康是本钱 – Health Is My Capital: A Qualitative Study of Access to Healthcare by Chinese Migrants in Singapore.” International Journal for Equity in Health 16, no. 1 (June 15, 2017): 102. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12939-017-0567-1.
  15. Tonsing, Kareen N. “A Review of Mental Health Literacy in Singapore.” Social Work in Health Care 57, no. 1 (January 2, 2018): 27–47. https://doi.org/10.1080/00981389.2017.1383335.
  16. Ministry of Manpower. “Medical Insurance Requirements for Foreign Worker.” Ministry of Manpower Singapore. Accessed October 11, 2020. https://www.mom.gov.sg/passes-and-permits/work-permit-for-foreign-worker/sector-specific-rules/medical-insurance.
  17. Ministry of Manpower. “Manpower for Patients Receiving Psychiatric Treatment and Mental Health Support.” Government, January 6, 2020. https://www.moh.gov.sg/news-highlights/details/manpower-for-patients-receiving-psychiatric-treatment-and-mental-health-support.
  18. Excluding Foreign Domestic Workers

Image Credit: Nikkei Asia

WeCARE: Expanding childcare awareness to facilitate employment for single mothers

By Afiya Dikshit (’23) and Lim Tian Jiao (’23)

To help single mothers under 35 years old secure sustainable employment, Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) and Government Technology Agency (GovTech) should develop a mobile application, WeCARE, to make childcare information more accessible. WeCARE should be publicised under ECDA’s existing KidSTART programme.

Background and Analysis

Many single mothers under 35 years old face severely reduced employment opportunities. In 2017, the average gross monthly income of working unwed mothers under 35 years is SGD 1,800, which is in the 15th percentile of gross monthly income in Singapore, while their median income is SGD 600, which is in the 1.5th percentile. Although these statistics only refer to unwed mothers, we believe a similar disparity in incomes exists for other single mothers because of difficulties in juggling work and caregiving responsibilities [1]. This clear disparity in income contributes to a lack of financial capabilities for single mothers.

Lack of childcare support is a major factor for this; caregiving responsibilities force “single parents…to work in part-time jobs that pay poorly” [2]. The inability to find childcare is a leading cause of unemployment and makes it difficult to maintain employment or attend job interviews. [3]

Single mothers do not take up childcare for various reasons. Firstly, many single parents see childcare as a service that they cannot afford [4]. Without sufficient incomes, they cannot afford to send their young children to childcare, yet without a safe space for their child, they are unable to find better employment. This leads to a Catch-22 situation, where single mothers cannot start working and raise their incomes unless their children are looked after, but they are unable to send children to childcare without sufficient incomes. [5]

However, this is a false paradox. ECDA’s Kindergarten Financial Aid Scheme (KiFAS) heavily subsidises early childhood education [6]. Households with a gross income of less than SGD 3,000 can pay just SGD 3 a month for full-day childcare at any of the 572 centres under the Anchor Operator Scheme [7], which receive government funding in return for capping their fees. As such, childcare fees are no longer prohibitive for the vast majority of lower-income families [8].

Rather, the lack of awareness of available schemes is a larger problem. “Time and again”, single mothers were found not to “know what further help might be available to them, or where to seek it” [9]. Lack of ready information about assistance schemes inhibits time-poor single mothers from comprehensively seeking out appropriate schemes and options.

Furthermore, the Housing Development Board’s policies do not consider single mothers with children as a family nucleus, so single mothers under the age of 35 are not eligible for subsidised housing. 75% of these mothers use rental or temporary housing [10], often with a maximum tenure of two years [11]. This makes it difficult for them to commit to enrolling children in childcare due to transportation and logistical uncertainty.

Such limitations make it especially difficult for single mothers to capitalise on existing schemes that alleviate the financial burden of childcare. This may trap mothers and children in a cycle of dependency and insufficient income.

Talking Points

  1. Single mothers lack access to sustainable and economically viable employment because of a perceived lack of suitable childcare, although government schemes already make childcare affordable for low-income single mothers.
  2. Single mothers face uncertainty about the logistical feasibility of childcare options for their children as they often have to shift living spaces and may be unaware of transportation facilities.
  3. Creating a mobile application that allows mothers to find suitable childcare centres in terms of cost, location and transportation helps mothers to coordinate more efficiently, while also showing them the convenience and ease at which they can operate.
  4. Disseminating information about the app through KidSTART, an existing door-to-door visitation programme for vulnerable families, can raise awareness about affordable childcare options.

The Policy Idea

We recommend that a mobile application, WeCARE, be created under GovTech. WeCARE will be designed to feature childcare centre locations, contact and transportation details and timings.

Our target group is unwed, widowed, or divorced mothers, under the age of 35, with children between 18 months and 6 years, and with gross monthly incomes lower than SGD 2,000. WeCARE will help these mothers find suitable childcare centre plans, providing them information about childcare timings and prices based on their location and income. This will make access to childcare centres easier.

We suggest using ECDA’s existing KidSTART Home Visitation programme to publicise WeCARE. When children turn 18 months old, Home Visitors will introduce WeCARE to mothers in the target group during their scheduled home visits.

Key WeCARE features are highlighted in the Appendix.

Policy Analysis

WeCARE provides single mothers with greater support to access long-term, formal childcare, so that they may seek and sustain employment. Given that Covid-19 has disproportionately affected lower-income earners in Singapore — where 51% experienced an income decline of more than 50% — an employment-oriented solution is timely [12].

The lack of secure housing for single mothers is a huge factor that hinders their utilisation of childcare facilities. With WeCARE, they can conveniently search and determine efficient and suitable plans and schemes for themselves and monitor the logistics of sending their children to a childcare centre.

Our smartphone-based solution is equitable as it does not require users to own laptops to easily navigate key functionalities. Given that 9% of residents who did not own a laptop cited cost as their main reason, a mobile application could be more accessible for low-income mothers [13]. A 2017 study found that the average American spends 90% of their mobile time in apps rather than the mobile web. As these figures are likely to be similar in Singapore, mothers will likely find an app more intuitive and convenient.

WeCARE is in line with the government’s Smart Nation digitisation drive, which aims to equip Singaporeans with technology to enhance everyday living [14]. For instance, Smart Nation initiatives have digitised hawker centres and introduced LifeSG, an integrated mobile application to access government services [15]. In addition, the government’s official Covid-19 contact tracing app, TraceTogether, has 2.4 million downloads, showing that WeCARE has the potential for widespread adoption [16].

Furthermore, the government can quickly gather childcare data from 822 private childcare operators through ECDA’s Partner/Anchor Operator Schemes [17]. ECDA-disseminated funding for the new school year could be made contingent upon them submitting relevant information for the app.

ECDA’s KidSTART Home Visitation scheme has home visitors regularly visit parents/guardians of eligible children from lower-income households to support them in child growth, health and nutrition till the child is three years old. The scheme has reached over 900 children since 2016, a number which is set to grow [18].

Leveraging on KidSTART allows us to directly introduce mothers to WeCARE and to subsidised childcare, addressing their lack of awareness about available options. Previous house visits by ECDA, pre-schools and voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) have successfully increased preschool attendance among lower-income families [19].

Furthermore, using KidSTART as a publicity vehicle is feasible and cost-effective as home visitations already occur on a regular basis. Building upon this scheme requires minimal training and expertise for Home Visitors.

Key Facts

  1. The average monthly income of single unwed mothers under 35 in 2017 is SGD 1,800, while the median monthly income is SGD 600; the average and median income in Singapore is SGD 4,563 and SGD 4,232 respectively [20].
  2. Current subsidies mean that for households with a monthly income of less than SGD 3,000, full-day childcare costs just SGD 3 [21].
  3. Singapore’s TraceTogether app was downloaded by 2.4 million users and has 1.4 million active users, showing the potential attractiveness of app-based interventions [22].

Appendix

Fig. 1: Screen grabs from the Singapore Elections Department’s website. This website, https://voteq.gowhere.gov.sg/, allowed Singaporeans to quickly find out their polling station information simply by keying in their postal code. Similarly, WeCARE will present users with a list of childcare centres and their monthly rates when they key in their postal code and monthly income.

Fig. 2: Screen grabs from SG Buses, a popular app displaying bus timings. Using a similar format, WeCARE will list all school bus timings for each childcare centre, allowing single mothers to see their transport options at a glance.


Endnotes

  1. Thiagarajan, Palaniappan. “Work-Family Role Strain of Single Parents: The Effects of Role Conflict and Role Ambiguity.” Marketing Management 17 (January 2007): 82–94.
  2. Glendinning, Emma, Catherine Smith, and Md Kadir. “Single-Parent Families in Singapore: Understanding the Challenges of Finances, Housing and Time Poverty.” Lien Centre for Social Innovation: Research, 2015, 6.
  3. “Single Parents.” Single Parents | Research and Campaigns. Association of Women for Action and Research, March 1, 2017. https://www.aware.org.sg/research-advocacy/singleparents/.
  4. Tai, Janice, and Priscilla Goy. “Torn between Work and Childcare.” The Straits Times, January 19, 2016. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/torn-between-work-and-childcare.
  5. Glendinning, Emma, Catherine Smith, and Md Kadir. “Single-Parent Families in Singapore: Understanding the Challenges of Finances, Housing and Time Poverty.” Lien Centre for Social Innovation: Research, 2015.
  6. “Subsidies and Financial Assistance.” Early Childhood Development Agency. Accessed October 9, 2020. https://www.ecda.gov.sg/Pages/Subsidies-and-Financial-Assistance.aspx.
  7. Early Childhood Development Agency. “Annex C: Anchor Operator and Partner Operator Schemes.” Media Room. Ministry of Social and Family Development, 2020. https://www.msf.gov.sg/media-room/Documents/Annex%20C%20-%20Anchor%20Operator%20and%20Partner%20Operator%20Schemes.pdf.
  8. “The Big Read: Educators Flag Absentee Rate of Children of Low-Income Families as a Concern.” TODAYonline, August 1, 2015. https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/big-read-educators-flag-absentee-rate-children-low-income-families-concern.
  9. Glendinning, Emma, Catherine Smith, and Md Kadir. “Single-Parent Families in Singapore: Understanding the Challenges of Finances, Housing and Time Poverty.” Lien Centre for Social Innovation: Research, 2015, 1–34.
  10. Rep. Single Parents’ Access to Public Housing: Findings from AWARE’s Research Project. Association of Women for Action and Research, 2016.
  11. Glendinning, Emma, Catherine Smith, and Md Kadir. “Single-Parent Families in Singapore: Understanding the Challenges of Finances, Housing and Time Poverty.” Lien Centre for Social Innovation: Research, 2015, 1–34.
  12. DBS, “DBS on Covid-19’s Impact on Singapore Residents’ Financial Health: More Help Needed for Lower Income Group,” Live More, Bank Less | DBS Bank, last modified August 18, 2020, https://www.dbs.com/newsroom/DBS_on_Covid_19_s_impact_on_Singapore_.
  13. Infocomm Media Development Authority, “Annual Survey On Infocomm Usage In Households And By Individuals For 2017,” IMDA – Infocomm Media Development Authority, last modified 2018, https://www.imda.gov.sg/-/media/Imda/Files/Industry-Development/Fact-and-Figures/Infocomm-Survey-Reports/HH2017-Survey.pdf?la=en.
  14. Smart Nation and Digital Government Office, “Pillars of Smart Nation,” SMDGO, last modified September 15, 2020, https://www.smartnation.gov.sg/why-Smart-Nation/pillars-of-smart-nation.
  15. Government of Singapore, “LifeSG,” Government of Singapore, last modified August 19, 2020, https://www.life.gov.sg/.
  16. Cindy Co, “Low Community Prevalence of COVID-19, 0.03% of People with Acute Respiratory Infection Test Positive: Gan Kim Yong,” CNA, last modified September 4, 2020, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/covid-19-singapore-low-community-prevalence-testing-13083194.
  17. Early Childhood Development Agency. “Annex C: Anchor Operator and Partner Operator Schemes.” Media Room. Ministry of Social and Family Development , 2020. https://www.msf.gov.sg/media-room/Documents/Annex%20C%20-%20Anchor%20Operator%20and%20Partner%20Operator%20Schemes.pdf.
  18. Early Childhood Development Agency, “KidSTART,” ECDA, last modified March 20, 2020, https://www.ecda.gov.sg/Parents/Pages/KidSTART.aspx.
  19. “The Big Read: Educators Flag Absentee Rate of Children of Low-income Families As a Concern,” TODAYonline, last modified December 22, 2015, https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/big-read-educators-flag-absentee-rate-children-low-income-families-concern.
  20. Ministry of Manpower, “Summary Table: Income,” Explore Statistics and Publications, last modified September 15, 2020, https://stats.mom.gov.sg/Pages/Income-Summary-Table.aspx.
  21. Early Childhood Development Agency, “Infant and Child Care Subsidy Calculator,” Go.gov.sg, accessed October 9, 2020, https://go.gov.sg/subsidycalculator.
  22. Cindy Co, “Low Community Prevalence of COVID-19, 0.03% of People with Acute Respiratory Infection Test Positive: Gan Kim Yong,” CNA, last modified September 4, 2020, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/covid-19-singapore-low-community-prevalence-testing-13083194.

Image Credit: Dollars and Sense

The Next Step in Singapore’s Food Story: Encouraging Demand for Local Produce

By Bryan Teo Jun Kai (’24), Lee Shao Ming (’24), Shaharaj Ahmed (’23), and Thomas Bean (’24)

To bolster Singapore’s food security, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) should address demand-side deficiencies by launching a local produce cashback scheme that subsidises the monthly rent of hawkers when they purchase local produce for use.

Background and Analysis

Despite being ranked the most food secure country in the world, Singapore imports 90% of its domestic food consumption. [1] As a result, supply chain disruptions present several risks to Singapore’s food security. [2] Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic triggered fears of instability in food supplies, driving panic buying at supermarkets and hoarding behaviour amongst Singaporeans. [3]

The obvious solution would be for Singapore to begin producing food locally and achieve some degree of self-sufficiency. Amidst growing realisation that food security is an existential issue to contend with, the SFA unveiled their ‘30 by 30 vision’ in early 2020, which aims to locally produce 30% of the country’s nutritional needs by 2030. [4] To support producers looking to use technology to grow more with less, the SFA has enhanced the Agriculture Productivity Fund [5] and pushed out the 30×30 Express grant [6]. Additionally, the SFA has been working with the Housing and Development Board (HDB) to identify non-traditional alternative farming spaces and compensate for Singapore’s low available land mass. [7] These recently introduced policies reflect the government’s interest in moving Singapore towards becoming a more self-reliant and food-secure society.

However, the lack of popular demand for local produce presents an issue. Without sufficient consumers ‘buying local’, there could be a surplus in produce and subsequently, more food wastage. While 94% of  respondents in a survey were willing to buy local produce, only 65% of them could identify local produce when shopping for their groceries [8], suggesting that intentions to consume local produce might not translate into actual consumption. Consumers do not tend to actively source for locally produced food, especially if it is not clearly certified as ‘locally-grown’ or ‘organic’ and placed at the eye-level in supermarket shelves. [9]

The issue of low demand for local produce can also be attributed to local producers not growing the right kinds of vegetables that are consumed by the majority of the population on a day-to-day basis. Due to Singapore’s land scarcity, there is a great push towards vertical farming and plant factories as the future of local vegetable production. However, not only is it technically difficult to grow popular local vegetables at competitive rates in these ‘upgraded’ farms, it is also a lot more cost-effective to grow salad greens that can be sold for a premium. Overall, it is of utmost importance that we “match demand for local produce with supply” instead of over-producing vegetables that not enough people like to eat. [8]

Ultimately, the government has focused heavily on the upstream nature of food security issues, providing farmers with the appropriate space, technology, and funding. If local food producers are to attain critical mass and break-even without further government support, it is crucial that the problem of low local demand is tackled. After all, supply-side efforts will not be effective if there are no consumers to drive the sustainable growth of this industry.

Key Facts

  1. Singapore currently imports over 90% of its domestic food consumption, but is seeking to meet 30% of local needs by 2030 through domestic production.
  2. According to a food perception survey conducted by the SFA and the Ministry of Sustainability and Environment on 1,500 people in 2020, an overwhelming majority of Singaporeans (94%) are willing to buy locally-produced food.
  3. However, consumers do not tend to actively source for locally produced food, especially if it is not clearly certified as ‘locally-grown’ or ‘organic’ and placed at the eye-level in supermarket shelves.

Talking Points

The lack of demand for local produce undermines the capability of local farmers to sell their products and attain critical mass. This adversely impacts the nation’s ability to achieve food security and their 30-by-30 target.

Short-term subsidies in the form of cashbacks to hawkers aim to increase local demand for local produce and may help local producers achieve economies of scale sooner. This reduces the price of local produce to competitive levels, stimulating further demand and bringing Singapore closer to its food security goals. This local produce cashback (LPC) scheme also boosts public awareness by bringing delicious local produce to domestic consumers, hence directly tackling the issue of low demand.

The Policy Idea

We propose to boost demand for local produce by introducing a LPC scheme in National Environmental Agency (NEA) hawker centres. Under this scheme, an incremental cashback on monthly rent to hawkers will be provided for every added quantity of local produce purchased. The pilot trial of the LPC scheme in the five most popular hawker centres could be funded by the SFA.

The LPC scheme aims to integrate local production into the current food and beverages (F&B) industry ecosystem. It builds on the popularity of hawker centres to expose all Singaporeans to the benefits of consuming local produce. The recent addition of hawker centres to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Intangible Cultural Heritage list [10] presents a window of opportunity for the effective introduction of this policy. By extensively marketing the fact that domestic hawkers now serve local produce in their cuisine, consumers will perceive local farms as a source of national pride, thus raising demand for their products.

Policy Analysis

Apart from generating direct demand for local produce, the LPC scheme presents an opportunity to boost public awareness of Singapore’s local food ecosystem. Just as how home-grown produce at supermarkets and retailers are labelled [11], hawker centres that use local produce should also be labelled as such (including the name of the producer), allowing consumers to know where exactly their food was sourced from. If consumers enjoyed their experience ‘eating local’, they might choose to ‘buy local’ in the future as well. Hence, with a successful roll-out, the LPC scheme would be able to effectively tackle the issue of low demand for local produce by subsidising demand in wholesale buyers like hawkers while increasing public awareness and generating further demand from individual consumers.

Not all hawker centres will find the LPC scheme suitable for their needs, as Singapore does not produce either the mass variety or quantity of food required at present. Agri-food producers preferentially grow specific varieties of vegetables due to economic and technological constraints, and may be unable to meet the hawkers’ needs entirely. To ensure the fairness of the scheme, the cashback offered should be balanced such that it offers a net benefit to hawkers who choose to opt-in, while not presenting any financial disadvantage to hawkers who are ineligible for the scheme or choose to opt-out. Supporting policies are required to encourage the production of other vegetable varieties in the long-term: contracts between hawkers and food producers would allow local food producers to grow new varieties of vegetables with guaranteed demand, reducing innovation risk.

The government has already injected huge amounts of funding into the local agricultural industry, leaving some concerned that producers might become overly dependent on government subsidies. Unlike direct subsidies to farmers, the LPC scheme is designed to be a short-term measure to incentivise hawkers to adopt local produce, so as to avoid leaving either farmers or hawkers dependent on the continuation of this subsidy. Once the scheme expands, local producers will have sufficient demand to achieve economies of scale.  Economies of scale for local producers will allow them to sell crops that are grown in high-tech facilities at competitive prices relative to imported food grown via conventional farming methods. When Singapore achieves enough local demand for local produce and the prices of local produce can compete with imported food, the government can roll back the LPC scheme without the concern that local hawkers cannot afford local produce.

Implementation Plan

The NEA will be in charge of implementing the scheme in their hawker centres, issuing the cashbacks while they collect rent. The SFA will finance the scheme, on top of providing all necessary support: promoting the scheme to hawkers, matching hawkers with appropriate local food producers, assisting hawkers with labelling, and marketing local produce to consumers.

During its pilot trial at the five hawker centres, the agencies should aim to get 50% of hawkers operating in the participating centres on board with the scheme. Following which, the SFA can review its success, taking into account feedback from producers, hawkers, and consumers, to decide whether to (i) expand the scheme nationwide, (ii) tweak the amount of cashback, or (iii) slowly wean producers and hawkers off the scheme.

Other supporting policies should be adopted, modified, and/or kept with the LPC scheme to further encourage demand for local produce. This includes modifying the education curriculum in primary and secondary schools to include Singapore’s food story, continuing financial support for local producers to increase productivity, and developing government-supported platforms to encourage partnerships between local food producers and F&B companies.


Endnote

  1. Montescarlos, Jose Ma. Luis, and Paul P.S. Teng. 2019. Supporting Singapore’s “30-by-30” Food Security Topic: Finding the “Sweet Spot” in Property Taxation. Policy Report, Singapore: Nanyang Technological University.
  2. Siau, Ming En. ‘The Big Read: Far from people’s minds, but food security a looming issue’. Today, 26 May 2017. https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/big-read-far-peoples-minds-food-security-looming-issue.
  3. Low, Youjin, and Alif Chandra. ‘The Big Read: Panic Buying Grabbed the Headlines, but a Quiet Resilience Is Seeing Singaporeans through COVID-19 Outbreak’. Channel NewsAsia, 17 February 2020. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/coronavirus-covid-19-panic-buying-singapore-dorscon-orange-12439480.
  4. Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment. 2020. Press Releases. April 9. Accessed October 1, 2020. https://www.mse.gov.sg/news/30×30-express–ramping-up-local-production-to-enhance-singapores-food-security.
  5. ‘Agriculture Productivity Fund’. Accessed 22 December 2020. https://www.sfa.gov.sg/food-farming/funding-schemes/agriculture-productivity-food.
  6. Liu, Vanessa. ‘Coronavirus: New $30m Grant Launched to Speed up Local Production of Eggs, Vegetables and Fish’. The Straits Times, 8 April 2020. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/coronavirus-new-30m-grant-launched-to-speed-up-local-production-of-eggs-vegetables-and.
  7. Singapore Food Agency. 2020. “Urban Farming.” Singapore Food Agency Website. September 30. Accessed October 1, 2020. https://www.sfa.gov.sg/docs/default-source/default-document-library/joint-sfa-hdb-media-release—award-of-tender-for-the-rental-of-9-hdb-mscp-rooftop-sites-for-urban-farming2aab92d9a16d420882427248886745c2.pdf
  8. Wong, Cara. ‘Demand for local produce must complement supply in local food production: Amy Khor’. The Straits Times, 18 July 2020. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/environment/demand-for-local-produce-must-complement-supply-in-local-food-production-amy
  9. Montescarlos, Jose Ma. Luis, Stella Liu, and Paul P.S. Teng. 2018. Scaling Up Commercial Urban Agriculture to Meet Food Demand in an Assessment of the Viability of Leafy Vegetable Production using Plant Factories with Artificial Lighting in a 2017 Land Tender (First Tranche). Policy Report, Singapore: Nanyang Technological University.
  10. Chew, Hui Min. ‘Singapore Hawker Culture Listed as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage’. Channel NewsAsia, 17 December 2020. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/singapore-hawker-culture-unesco-intangible-cultural-heritage-13784522.
  11. Liu, Vanessa. ‘Bright Red Label to Help Shoppers Identify Local Produce’. The New Paper, 7 August 2020. https://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore/bright-red-label-help-shoppers-identify-local-produce.

Image Credit: The Straits Times

Stimulating demand for local produce through a cashback scheme

By Shaharaj Ahmed (’23) and Thomas Bean (’24)

 

This op-ed is a primer for a Local Produce Cashback scheme for Singaporean farmers, proposed by Bryan Teo Jun Kai (’24), Lee Shao Ming (’24), Shaharaj Ahmed (’23), and Thomas Bean (’24). 

For more details on the scheme, refer to Policy Memo The Next Step in Singapore’s Food Story: Encouraging Demand for Local Produce.

 


When walking into a Fairprice outlet, one might think there is always an abundance of cheap food and shelves stacked with affordable produce. However, COVID-19 highlighted the possibility of an alternate food-insecure Singapore with empty grocery stores [1]

The pandemic tested the rigidity of Singapore’s supply chains. While the island-nation overcame supply deficits caused by the pandemic through forging new relationships [2], it is clear that Singapore should diversify food sources to feed its population without disruption. One of the most sustainable long-term options at hand is to bring food production back into the Republic.  

This move to bring food production back into the country is more urgent given climate change. 

Climate change is expected to harm Singapore’s food security by reducing global food production. Projections suggest that arable land will decrease, more frequent and intense weather events such as droughts and storms will lead to greater crop losses, and the acidification of warming of oceans will negatively impact marine stocks [3]. This may lead to Singapore facing reduced accessibility to food stocks and greater expenses when importing food. 

To increase food security, the city-state must increase local food production. To this effect, Government has already introduced several policies, including the recent allocation of another SGD 30 million in 2020 to accelerate local food production [4].

However, simply increasing supply through subsidies and grants does not guarantee a permanent and resilient local food production system. Demand must also be developed alongside supply to make sure that food producers have a sustainable consumer base. 

Currently,  local producers face the issue of low domestic demand as they do not grow the varieties of vegetables consumed by the majority on a day-to-day basis [5]. Due to Singapore’s land scarcity, there is a strong push towards vertical farming and plant factories as the future of local vegetable production [6]. However, not only is it technically difficult to grow popular local vegetables at competitive rates in these ‘upgraded’ farms, it is also a lot more cost-effective to grow salad greens that can be sold for a premium [7]

Boosting demand will allow local farmers to justify ramping up local production, allowing them to achieve economies of scale and sell local produce at competitive rates. 

To create demand, we propose that the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) could work together with the National Environmental Agency (NEA) to stimulate demand from hawkers for local produce via a cashback scheme. Under the scheme, hawkers at NEA-run hawker centres will receive cashbacks on the local produce bought.

Further, the SFA can create a labelling system similar to ones used to label local produce in supermarkets, to signal to consumers which hawkers use local produce. When consumers eat dishes with local produce which generally has greater freshness and quality, they may choose to ‘buy local’ at supermarkets and hawker centres in future, stimulating even greater demand.

Of course, it must be acknowledged that not all hawker centres can participate in the cashback scheme. Most drink stalls would be instant losers of this scheme. Moreover, due to economic, climate, and technological constraints, Singapore may not produce either the variety or quantity of food that hawkers use since agri-food producers preferentially grow specific varieties of vegetables. Thus, the prospect of an advantaged and disadvantaged group of hawkers emerging is possible. 

One possible solution is that the cashback offered on the produce would be so minute in value that relative to hawkers unable to participate, the profit gained by the participating hawkers would be non-too significant. Yet, the value gained by the participating hawkers would be such that it incentivizes them to continue to purchase local produce. For example, a 5c reduction per bundle of bok choy may realize a gain of 50$ per month for a noodle store, assuming that the store uses up 30 bundles a day. 

Another possible method is to ensure that at least all hawkers will have access to one ingredient that is locally produced, thus reducing inaccessibility to this cashback scheme. For example, offering cashback on eggs may allow drink stalls offering egg and toast to hop on the scheme. Another example is for cucumbers to be grown locally such that it allows chicken rice hawkers to participate as well. It is clear to see that the success of this scheme depends on the ability of farms to match the demands of hawkers.  

Some may also believe such a scheme is unsustainable as it leaves hawkers and local farmers dependent on long-term government subsidies to boost local demand and production of local produce. This should not occur — the scheme should be short-term, concluding once it has stimulated sufficient demand to allow local food producers to achieve economies of scale and sell their products at prices competitive with food imports grown using conventional methods.

The cashback scheme can go a long way towards stimulating demand, but it will not be as effective without other supporting policies. Other schemes are required to encourage the production of other vegetable varieties in the long-term. For example, the SFA could assist to encourage contracts between hawkers and food producers would allow local food producers to grow new varieties of vegetables with guaranteed demand, reducing innovation risk.

Modifying the education curriculum in primary and secondary schools to include Singapore’s food story, continued financial support for producers to increase productivity, and the development of government-supported platforms to encourage partnerships between local food producers and F&B companies are other actions that will also help Singapore move closer to its food self-sufficiency goals.

It is clear from the pandemic and the long-term threats of climate change that Singapore must begin to reduce reliance on imported food. A cashback scheme that helps to stimulate demand from hawkers along with other supporting policies will go a long way to helping Singapore do this.

 


Endnotes

  1. Audrey Tan, “Coronavirus: Politicians, supermarkets urge calm amid panic-buying of groceries”, Straits Times, February 10 2020, accessed 30 December 2020, https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/coronavirus-fairprice-chief-urges-calm-amid-panic-buying-of-groceries-singapores
  2. Lay, Belmont, “S’pore welcomes first shipment of eggs from Poland: Trade minister Chan Chun Sing.” Mothership, June 05 2020, accessed 30 December 2020,  https://mothership.sg/2020/06/fresh-eggs-poland-singapore/
  3. Mbow et. al,, Food Security. In: Climate Changeand Land: an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems, (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2019), https://www.ipcc.ch/srccl/chapter/chapter-5/
  4. Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR), “30×30 Express: Ramping Up Local Production to Enhance Singapore’s Food Security”, April 8 2020, accessed 30 December 2020, https://www.mse.gov.sg/resource-room/category/2020-04-08-press-release-on-30-x-30-express/
  5. Cara Wong, “Demand for local produce must complement supply in local food production: Amy Khor”, Straits Times, July 18 2020, accessed 30 December 2020, https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/environment/demand-for-local-produce-must-complement-supply-in-local-food-production-amy
  6.  Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), “Future of farming: Singapore’s agriculture sector needs to embrace technologies or innovations that can help to achieve quantum leaps in productivity.”, Food for Thought, January 1 2017, accessed 30 December 2020, https://www.sfa.gov.sg/food-for-thought/article/detail/future-of-farming
  7.  Mateusz Piechowiak, “Can Vertical Farming Grow Beyond Herbs and Leafy Greens?”, Vertical Farming Planet, n.d, http://verticalfarmingplanet.com/can-vertical-farming-grow-beyond-herbs-and-leafy-greens/ 

How Renewable Energy Can, and Should, Address Environmental Racism

This article is written by Benjamin Yang (’22) from the Energy, Technology, and the Environment Policy Centre, featured in Issue IV of Anthroposphere: the Oxford Climate Review.

Anthroposphere: the Oxford Climate Review is an award-winning interdisciplinary print magazine founded at Oxford University that covers climate change and the environment through the lenses of natural science, economics, policy, politics, literature, pop culture, and much more. This piece discusses the role of energy transition in addressing environmental racism through two cases of renewable energy development projects in Taiwan.

Click here to read the full article!

Image Credit: Francesca Nava