Is it time for S’pore to rethink unemployment support? PAP MPs weigh in

23/02/2023

The Government’s stance on unemployment support has been clear all these years.

It prefers to create jobs and help Singaporeans seek re-employment instead of handing out unemployment benefits. It is also aligned with this Party’s ethos of individual resilience.

But with today’s bleak economic outlook, along with a future that is increasingly uncertain, could this be the place and time to re-consider this stance?

People’s Action Party (PAP) MPs Mr Patrick Tay (Pioneer SMC) and Ms Mariam Jaafar (Sembawang GRC) raised this point in their Budget debate speeches on Feb 23, 2023.

A lifeline for retrenched PMEs

Mr Tay highlighted the importance of unemployment support for professionals, managers, and executives (PMEs).

PMEs might not receive as much financial support from the Government due to their higher initial income, said Mr Tay, even though this is an increasingly vulnerable group because of rapid economic changes.

Unemployment support is especially useful when “complemented with active labour market interventions”, said Mr Tay:

“The support provides displaced workers the space to upgrade their skills and look for suitable employment, with the knowledge that they would be able to continue supporting their family’s basic needs during this period.”

Assisting retrenched middle-income Singaporeans

Ms Mariam highlighted another segment of the population — retrenched middle-income Singaporeans.

There is a slew of schemes and relief that help Singaporeans who lose their jobs, she acknowledged.

“But these are sometimes not enough for middle income Singaporeans who have larger financial commitments — commitments that payouts from ComCare cannot support.”

Ms Mariam gave the example of a constituent who was left with a double-digit bank balance after struggling for two years to find re-employment after losing his job with an MNC.

“The time may have come for Singapore to implement some form of redundancy or unemployment insurance,” she said while acknowledging the resistance that middle-income earners have towards self-funding such schemes.

Another suggestion from Ms Mariam is to tweak existing schemes like ComCare to provide tiered assistance based on pre-job loss income.

The financial assistance can also be time-limited and subject to the beneficiary’s efforts to find new jobs or re-skill themselves.

Unemployment support was crucial lifeline during pandemic

Our Party MPs are cognisant of the issues surrounding unemployment support, for instance, concerns that workers will remain unemployed for longer periods, making it harder for them to re-enter employment and causing a strain on Government resources.

However, we have seen how unemployment support served as a crucial lifeline during the pandemic.

Mr Tay gave the examples of the Covid-19 Recovery Grant and the Self-Employed Income Relief Scheme which provided temporary financial support to workers who experienced involuntary job loss and income loss.

And as that experience has shown, unemployment support can be tweaked to ensure that it is not unfairly taken advantage of.

“To be eligible (for the Covid-19 Recovery Grant) unemployed workers must prove that they have actively participated in job search or training, or attempted to improve their business revenue,” said Mr Tay.

“I am grateful that the Covid-19 Recovery Grant has been extended till the end of 2023, as many workers are still recovering from the pandemic’s economic impact. However, I would like to reiterate the call for the government to go a step further, and introduce a permanent scheme that would provide short-term unemployment support for all workers who are displaced, including PMEs.”

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Images via, Patrick Tay/Facebook, Mariam Jaafar/Facebook