Is the govt responsible for welfare or poverty?

5 Mar

Make no mistake about it, I am a fan of yawningbread, and Singapore would be lesser off if Mr Alex Au stopped blogging and doing his own research and articulating his opinions. In fact, most of the time, he makes a lot of sense and his articles always sets me thinking. I think all his efforts invested into blogging is not just for us to agree with him but to encourage us (and Singapore) to think independently and to exercise our own faculties as a citizen. 

http://yawningbread.wordpress.com/2012/03/03/my-eyebrows-rose-thrice-part-1-earn-1000-buy-a-flat/

Alex makes 9 points in this above article. Let’s deal with the easier one. Yawningbread asked if the buyer need to pay cash upfront for a 2 or 3 rm HDB flat bought from the govt? It is possible not to pay any cash upfront provided the govt housing grant of $40K-$60K is enought to cover the 10% downpayment. On ST dated 3rd Mar, it featured Mr Azhari Abdul Malek (spouse and two kids) moving into a new 3rm Punggol flat from his HDB rental unit in Toa Payoh. He did not pay any cash upfront as the $40K grant and his CPF Ordinary Account covered the necessary payments.

Note: The CPF Ordinary Account would be wiped clean by HDB when purchasing a flat using grants.  Income ceiling for a direct purchase of a HDB 3-room flat is now $5000 household income.  

Yawningbread made a point that a 2 bedroom unit would be too small to raise a family. I have never lived in a 2 bedroom unit but I went to one as a guest when I was still in school. My classmate, Keong, slept in the living room while his parents slept in the bedroom. They had their meals in the kitchen and that’s where he did his homework too while his parents watched TV in the living room. Coming from a comfortable 4 room unit where I had my own room, I was of course appalled by such a small flat but at least it was better than renting. It was something to call their own no matter how small. I didn’t know if Keong’s parent practised family planning but he was the only child. 

The remainder of Yawningbread’s question deal with the ability of this low income family to save, pay for medical bills, take care of their elderly and retire. Yes, life is very tough if you are earning a low salary in Singapore and if you cannot keep up, you will need to swallow your pride and seek assistance. Staying in a 2 room unit does not exclude you from grants, aids and subsidies. In fact, it would probably help your case.

Keong received various bursaries and assistance when he was in school. I never dared asked what sort of welfare his parents applied for. His father was a cleaner while his mother was a stall helper and they were very frugal people. Keong always walked home for lunch after school and seldom joined us for our frivolous activities. The first thing Keong did when he got a stable job was to apply for a 4room flat together with his parents. His then-future wife would have to accept Keong’s parents staying with them – which she did.  Keong is not rich today, and if his parents fell terribly ill, I am sure it would be a financial strain on him. 

For low income families, life is not a bed of roses, they have to plan more carefully even though they might be less educated. Their margin of error is greater and misplanning can push a family into the downward spiral of the poverty trap. Govt and society should help them with this, above and beyond handouts, the more pressing issue would be guiding them to make the correct decisions (especially if they have school going kids). 

So the question, is govt responsible for your welfare or poverty? The govt should be responsible for our welfare, safe streets, housing, food, healthcare (even when you cannot afford it), temporary additional aid when it is needed, schooling, transport etc. But should it be responsible for your poverty or alleviating your poverty? This is a precarious line for society, but this line is also very blurry and porous and hard to draw. 

Yes, the govt is responsible in the welfare sense, in providing the basic necessities and additiional aid (when it is really needed) to give the lower income a chance, a leg up to climb out of poverty. But if one day, govt and society becomes too responsible for your poverty, then as a whole we will be less competitive. Yes, LKY’s favourite ‘cructch mentality’ argument – I shouldn’t elaborate more. 

Another question to ask is what sort of poverty level is acceptable for this society? Granted we are not building utopia, there would bound to be some sad cases around, key is making sure they get the aid in a timely manner and studies done to ensure that these are not chronic (or multi generational). Again, software is as important as (if not more) than just throwing money at the problem. 

Again Yawningbread is not wrong to say that surviving Singapore on $1000 is really no joke, in fact, it can be dangerous and we really must thank him for keeping his focus on issues that not many in Singapore care about. At least it is definetely much better than Vikram Nair and Chen Show Mao (via someone called Donald Low?) going at each other shadown boxing style with silly arguments about budgetary epistemology and semantics. 

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