Singapore can draw on strength of its social reserves: DPM Heng Swee Keat

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Singapore’s in the face of adversity lies not just in its financial but in the “deep reserves of capital”, said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Swee Keat.

In fact, the crisis, he said, has brought out the best in the community. For instance, many Singaporeans chose to donate their Solidarity Payments to charitable causes. And over 10,000 people have stepped forward these past two months to volunteer, such as helping to distribute care packs or to manage the National Care Hotline.

Rounding up the debate on the Fortitude Budget in Parliament yesterday, Mr Heng said: “It is the spirit of Singapore Together, where all parts of society work together in partnership, keeping us strong and united, even as the pandemic fragments many societies.”

Mr Heng also lauded how others in Singapore – from those in the corporate sector and community groups, to individuals and public servants – have done their part to help in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

He cited several encouraging stories of people helping one another, such as Madam Julie Li, who at 82, frequently checked in with fellow seniors on the phone and shared healthy cooking recipes with them during the circuit breaker.

On behalf of Parliament, Mr Heng expressed his appreciation to the many volunteers and donors, front-line officers and people in Singapore for taking seriously the measures in place to stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

“Every constructive action adds to our social reserves that allow us to face this challenge with fortitude. I encourage more Singaporeans to step forward and help one another in our community.”

Mr Heng noted that social spending has nearly doubled over the last 10 years, reflecting the Government’s commitment to invest in and support its people.

He also assured Nominated MPs Terence Ho and Yip Pin Xiu, who spoke on additional support for the arts and sports, among others, that even as Singapore battles the pandemic, it will continue longer-term investments in education, housing and healthcare – and to uplift the arts and sports sectors.

“We will take lessons from Covid-19 to continue refining our social support policies, to help build stronger families and communities. Individuals and the community too, play a part,” he said.

Ms Yip had, during the debate, cited how safe distancing measures could pose challenges for people with disabilities, and said others should look out for them. She asked: “How many Singaporeans have thought about how somebody who is blind and living alone, while observing safe distancing measures, is coping?

Ms Yip, who is a national para swimmer, also touched on the challenges people with disabilities may face in accessing information, food and other essentials, as well as working from home and facing higher costs for care. “These costs are likely to increase as alternative or emergency arrangements are made during the disruptions of service during the circuit breaker or the phases after that,” she added.

Mr Ho said more could be done to engage online viewers of arts and culture content, and suggested a cultural pass for pay-per-view digital concerts. There could be more collaborations with the private and public sectors to use resources “in a more effective way”, he added.

In his speech, Mr Heng noted many MPs had proposed refinements and help for various groups.

In preparing the Budgets, he and his colleagues reached out through many channels to identify where the greatest needs are, before carefully considering how they can help those who are most in need, especially those who are less able to articulate their needs, he said.

“The result is not perfect, but has gone a long way in alleviating pain points,” he added.

Mr Heng also cited Ms Cheryl Chan (Fengshan) who had said on Thursday: “The Government can act as a catalyst, but we, ourselves must be the changemakers.”

The added: “There is a role for every Singaporean to play. We have the reserves of strength and kindness in each of us to pay it forward in deed or resources to help support someone else.”

“Moments of crisis are tests of the strength of our reserves. And we have the strength – not least of all in ourselves as a people. We have the fortitude to each do our part, and emerge stronger.”

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