As Singapore undergoes demographic, economic and societal changes, greater demands will be placed on families.
Tackling the increasingly complex challenges will require the Government and the community to stay united, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat.
“Individuals, families and the community play an important role in looking out for and supporting one another. We will support individuals and families to better prepare for the future and care for one another,” he said.
“It is this shared responsibility – with individuals, families, community, and the Government all playing their part and supporting one another – that has made our society what it is today, and that will keep our society thriving in the years ahead.”
To this end, Minister Heng announced a range of new and enhanced support measures for families, individuals and students in this year’s Budget.
These include top-ups of up to $200 million for both the Edusave and Financial Assistance Scheme along with a $126 million boost to the Services and Conservancy Charges Rebate which will help to alleviate costs for needy families.
At the heart of these moves is the need to preserve meritocracy and provide equal opportunities for all Singaporeans.
This is particularly crucial when it comes to education, said Minister Heng.
“Education helps our children realise their full potential. We invest heavily in every child, to ensure that everyone, regardless of background, have access to a quality education,” he said.
Starting from January 2019, top-ups to the Edusave fund mean that primary school students will each have their personal accounts increased from $200 to $230 while secondary school students will benefit from an increase of $240 to $290.
He also announced plans to widen the coverage of both the Edusave Merit Bursary and the Independent School Bursary to benefit more families.
The current income eligibility criteria for the Edusave Merit Bursary is S$6,000 in gross monthly household income. From this year onwards, this will be increased to S$6,900.
Similarly, the MOE Financial Assistance Scheme will see its annual bursary quantum for pre-university students increase from $750 to $900.
For 45-year old part-time tutor and mother of three teenage children, Madam Lucy Chan, these additional help could not have come at a better time.
Between her husband who works as a full-time carpenter and herself, the couple have a joint monthly income of $3,500.
Out of this, roughly $2,000 goes towards monthly groceries, conservancy charges and other miscellaneous bills. The rest goes to daily expenses, including paying for their children’s school fees and other expenses.
“All three of my children were covered by the scheme from primary right up to secondary school. This helped my husband and me save a lot of money for their future which is very important. This is especially if we want to support their different passions and goals,” she said.
“Many families are usually sandwiched because of the income criteria and do not qualify for any of the benefits even if they might need them the most. Widening the eligibility shows that the government is keen on helping these people.”
Defraying conservancy charges
The Budget also included additional help for families to cope with the rising costs of living.
A $126 million boost to the Services and Conservancy Charges Rebate looks set to benefit 900,000 HDB households, helping them cope with service and conservancy charges. One and two room flats will receive 3.5 months of rebate, while three and four room flats will receive 2.5 months of rebate.
Five room flats will get 2 months of rebates while those living in executive and multi-generational flats will receive 1.5 months of rebates.
At the same time, the Government will be increasing the GST Voucher U-Save by $20 between 2019 and 2020 to help families offset the rising costs of electricity. Singaporean families can expect to get between $240 and $400 a year, depending on where they stay.
For Madam Chan, who stays in a 4-room HDB flat in Choa Chu Kang with her family, any additional help is welcome.
“It might seem like a small cost because it is handed out every three months. But in the long run, it amounts to quite a sum,” she said.
“We don’t have much so every cent counts.”