Singapore’s Fiscal Policy
Singapore’s fiscal policies have helped to steward the country’s progress over the years. They aim to create the conditions for macroeconomic stability, support economic growth, and promote social equity. We achieve this by maintaining a balanced budget, investing for the future, and ensuring a fair and progressive fiscal system.
Our fiscal policies are designed to support the following key objectives:
What do we spend on?Public spending is focused on public goods and infrastructure that enable our people and businesses to thrive and grow. We invest heavily in skills, education and infrastructure to develop our people and lay the foundations for long-term economic growth. We also commit a steady amount of spending on security and defence to safeguard our way of life.
As our society matures and ages, an increasing proportion of public spending has been channelled towards social spending. Over the last decade, we have almost doubled our social spending from $17 billion in Financial Year (FY) 2010, to $31 billion in FY2019. Today, social spending makes up the largest part of annual government expenditure. A large part of the increase has gone towards improving the quality, accessibility and affordability of healthcare, for which spending has tripled over the last decade.
Fiscal policy in Singapore is characterised by a strong long-term orientation. We plan far ahead to prepare for longer-term challenges such as ageing and climate change. Doing so enables us to intervene effectively upstream, to avoid more costly interventions downstream. It also enables us to help our society and economy adjust to the challenges.
Planning for the long-term
We are planning ahead to cater for several new spending priorities going forward, including health and aged care, pre-school education and SkillsFuture, strengthening our social security systems, renewing our city infrastructure, and protecting ourselves against new security threats.
In particular, government spending on healthcare will continue to rise to meet the needs of our ageing population. This will go towards giving our seniors greater assurance over healthcare, and a better quality of life.
Spending for outcomes
Even as we ensure sufficient public spending to meet our economy’s and society’s changing demands, we seek to maintain a light fiscal burden on taxpayers. We seek to achieve strong outcomes while delivering value for money for taxpayers. Today, government expenditure as a share of GDP is among the lowest across advanced economies.
Source: OECD (National Accounts Statistics: National Accounts at a Glance, accessed from https://data.oecd.org/)
While we spend relatively less of our GDP as a Government, we focus on the quality rather than the volume of spending. In areas such as education, health, policing, we have consistently achieved outcomes near the top internationally (e.g. PISA, healthy life expectancy, Gallup law and order index) despite low levels of spending as a percentage of GDP.
Sources: Global Burden of Disease Study, World Health Organisation, MOF Data for Singapore is proxied using MOH total expenditure.
Sources: OECD, UNESCO Institute for Statistics Data for Singapore is proxied using MOE total expenditure.
Stewarding our resources for the future
Financial strength helps a small country with no natural resources like Singapore to respond effectively to crises. Over the years, we have been prudent and disciplined in building up our reserves. Our reserves have allowed us to deal with unexpected shocks such as the COVID-19 outbreak and be able to respond decisively by supporting Singaporeans and our workers amidst the pandemic. Unlike many other countries, our reserves have allowed us to do so without borrowing heavily and passing on the financial burden to future generations.
Our reserves also contribute significantly to our current revenues. We have invested our reserves for the long-term, and the returns generated from investing our reserves are shared between present and future generations. Part of the investment returns generated supplement our annual budget through the Net Investment Returns Contribution (NIRC). Today, the NIRC forms the largest, single component of Government revenues. We have to plan our revenues prudently, to ensure that each generation contributes and benefits fairly from the Budget.
This is unlike the situation in many other advanced economies today. Most advanced countries pay about 2% of their GDP in debt servicing of accumulated debt (as shown at the lower half of the chart below). They collect taxes to pay off these debts. In Singapore, it is the opposite – we have grown a steady stream of returns from investments of our reserves for current spending (as shown in the top half of the chart below), which helps to keep our taxes low. This in turn helps to support many important areas of expenditure that are important to Singapore’s development and future growth. For example, the annual amount from NIRC is larger than our annual spending on education.
*Investment returns refers to Net Investment Returns Contribution. Interest payments refer to net general government interest payments, retrieved from OECD Economic Outlook No. 106 (Nov 2019)
Building capabilities and delivering inclusive growthWhile the share of public spending on development expenditure has declined in many advanced economies, Singapore continues to devote a large part of our budget to development and investment. About 25% of our budget is devoted to development expenditure. This has allowed us to build up the capabilities to secure Singapore’s future growth, and enable our people and firms to grow and compete in a global arena.
The Government is investing strongly to accelerate our innovation and digitalisation push, grow our base of innovative enterprises, and pursue new frontiers of growth. We are investing in research in areas like health and biomedical sciences, climate change and artificial intelligence. We are forging stronger connections to major innovation nodes and key demand markets, through trade facilitation and digital economy agreements, platforms like the Networked Trade Platform and Global Innovation Alliance, and by pressing on with major investments in our port and airport.
We also invest strongly in our people throughout life, starting from the early years. This enables our people to take on the new opportunities created and raise our standard of living.
Through our strategies, all Singaporeans have been able to enjoy the fruits of progress. As can be seen in the chart below, the growth that we have experienced is higher than that of many other advanced economies, and is also more broad-based.
Source: DOS and National Statistical Offices
1Income figures for Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and US are based on income from all sources among all households.
Income figures for Singapore are based on Income from work among resident employed households.
Income growth figures have been adjusted for household size where possible (except Hong Kong and Taiwan).
2Figures for Hong Kong are from 2016. Figures for Singapore are from 2009 to 2019.
Working in partnershipSingapore’s fiscal policy seeks to encourage collective responsibility at all levels of society. It aims to support, enable, and amplify the efforts, ideas and initiatives of the business and people sectors, to build a better Singapore together.
Our success in building a vibrant economy, inclusive society and a better home will increasingly hinge on strong partnerships between Government, businesses and community. We can achieve this through the Singapore Together movement, to collectively harness the best of our people and ideas.
Fair system of taxes and transfersWe are committed to ensure that our overall system of taxes and transfers is progressive – with the better-off contributing more, and lower- and middle-income households receiving more in benefits than the taxes they pay. Today, when you look at the overall balance of taxes and transfers, lower- and middle- income households receive proportionately more benefits from transfers than what they pay in taxes.
Source: MOF Estimates
Note: Benefits include all government transfers, subsidies and rebates. Taxes include direct and indirect taxes.
Over the years, we have also strengthened support for low-wage workers, vulnerable seniors, and households with greater caregiving burdens, through programmes like Workfare and Silver Support.
Fostering social mobilityOur fiscal policy aims to provide a foundation of broad-based opportunities that enables everyone to earn their own success. We redistribute resources in a way that enhances the capability of our people, through investments in areas like education and housing. In these areas, we provide more support for lower- and middle-income groups.
In education, we have invested significantly in pre-school and in a high-quality public school system that is accessible to all, so as to equalise opportunities when children are young. Within the next few years, we will double our annual spending on affordable, quality pre-school education from 2018 levels. We have also been allocating extra resources to students from disadvantaged backgrounds and will continue to do so. This includes expanding KidStart, to help lower-income families and their children in the earliest years, which are critical to their development. We will also strengthen UPLIFT efforts to help those at risk. Our heavy investment in education also extends into strong tertiary pathways through ITE, polytechnic, universities, and increasingly to lifelong learning.
Today, Singaporeans who grow up in lower income families have a better chance of moving up the income ladder than those in most other advanced countries. Based on the 1978-1982 birth cohorts, 14.3% of those born to families from the lowest 20% in household income made it to the highest 20% by income.
Source: MOF Occasional Paper (2015), Chetty et al. (2014) - US, Connolly et al. (2019) - Canada
Overall Budget Balance
|Revised FY2019||Estimated FY2020||Change over Revised FY2019|
|Corporate Income Tax||16.75||17.10||0.34||2.0|
|Personal Income Tax||12.20||12.51||0.31||2.6|
|Statutory Boards' Contributions1||1.80||2.59||0.79||44.0|
|Customs, Excise and Carbon Taxes||3.32||3.60||0.28||8.4|
|Goods and Services Tax||11.18||11.27||0.09||0.8|
|Motor Vehicle Taxes||2.46||2.27||(0.19)||(7.7)|
|Vehicle Quota Premiums||2.90||2.64||(0.27)||(9.2)|
|Fees and Charges (Excluding Vehicle Quota Premiums)||3.48||3.62||0.14||4.0|
|PRIMARY SURPLUS / DEFICIT1||(3.44)||(7.60)|
|Special Transfers Excluding Top-ups to Endowment and Trust Funds||1.70||4.66|
|Wage Credit Scheme||0.65||1.60|
|Jobs Support Scheme||-||1.33|
|Care and Support Package – Cash Payout||-||0.83|
|GST Voucher Special Payment5||0.44||0.36|
|PAssion Card Top-Up||-||0.15|
|Workfare Special Bonus6||0.08||0.14|
|Service and Conservancy Charges Rebates||0.13||0.13|
|BASIC SURPLUS / DEFICIT3||(5.13)||(12.26)|
|Top-ups to Endowment and Trust Funds||13.57||17.32|
|GST Voucher Fund||-||6.00|
|Coastal and Flood Protection Fund||-||5.00|
|National Research Fund||-||2.00|
|Skills Development Fund||-||2.00|
|Special Employment Credit Fund||0.37||0.70|
|Community Care Endowment Fund||-||0.50|
|NET INVESTMENT RETURNS CONTRIBUTION||17.05||18.63||1.58||9.3|
|OVERALL BUDGET SURPLUS / DEFICIT||(1.65)||(10.95)|
Note: Due to rounding, figures may not add up. Negative figures are shown in parentheses.
- From FY2019 onwards, Statutory Boards’ Contributions (SBC) from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) in a given financial year are calculated as the average of “Contribution to Consolidated Fund” (in lieu of corporate income tax) reported in MAS’ financial statements for the preceding three years. This is to reduce the volatility in MAS’ annual contributions. MAS’ SBC in FY2019 should thus comprise one-third of “Contribution to Consolidated Fund” reported in MAS’ financial statements for FY2016/17, FY2017/18 and FY2018/19. As MAS’ “Contribution to Consolidated Fund” for FY2016/17 and FY2017/18 have been paid in full in FY2017 and FY2018 respectively, MAS’ SBC in FY2019 comprises only one-third of MAS’ “Contribution to Consolidated Fund” for FY2018/19. MAS’ SBC in FY2020 will in turn comprise one-third of MAS’ “Contribution to Consolidated Fund” for FY2018/19 and FY2019/20, and MAS’ SBC in FY2021 will comprise one-third of MAS’ “Contribution to Consolidated Fund” for FY2018/19, FY2019/20 and FY2020/21.
- Other Taxes include the Foreign Worker Levy, Water Conservation Tax, Development Charge and Annual Tonnage Tax.
- Surplus / Deficit before Special Transfers (including Top-ups to Endowment and Trust Funds) and Net Investment Returns Contribution.
- Special Transfers including Top-ups to Endowment and Trust Funds.
- The GST Voucher Special Payment committed in Budget 2019 comprises the GST Voucher – Cash (Bicentennial Payment). The GST Voucher Special Payment committed in Budget 2020 comprises the GST Voucher – U-Save Special Payments (with additional U-Save for larger households) under the Care and Support Package.
- The Workfare Special Bonus committed in Budget 2019 comprises the Workfare Bicentennial Bonus. The Workfare Special Bonus committed in Budget 2020 comprises the Workfare Special Payment under the Care and Support Package.
- Consists of CPF MediSave Top-ups, Productivity and Innovation Credit, Productivity and Innovation Credit Bonus, Grocery Vouchers, Funding for Self-Help Groups, Merdeka Generation Package, Rebate for School Buses, CPF Top-Up, CPF Transition Offset, SG Bonus, SME Cash Grant, Top-ups to Child Development Accounts and Top-ups to Post-Secondary Education Accounts.
- Surplus / Deficit before Top-ups to Endowment and Trust Funds, and Net Investment Returns Contribution.
- Consists of MediFund, Community Capability Trust, Public Transport Fund, Rail Infrastructure Fund, Merdeka Generation Fund and Long-Term Care Support Fund.