By Jorain Ng
The Singapore Budget 2015 is an important document presenting the Government’s proposed revenue and spending for a financial year. It affects every person living in Singapore, and so has inspired a flurry of articles on its hits and misses.
Yet, to the best of my knowledge, nothing has been written on how the Budget affects the disability community, and even now, many persons with disabilities have no knowledge on what the Budget means for them.
This article examines the Budget, and shows that there are measures indirectly affecting persons with disabilities, but it fails to address some of the more specific needs of the disability community.
Measures Affecting Persons with Disabilities
Instead of addressing persons with disabilities as a group with needs distinct from others, the Government introduced measures to meet the more general needs of individuals. Some of these measures indirectly cater to the needs of persons with disabilities.
The Foreign Domestic Worker Concessionary Levy, for example, is intended to alleviate the financial burden of households with caregiving duties. Households caring for persons with disabilities fall under this rubric, so they too can benefit from the scheme. Another example is the Higher Special Employment Credit (SEC). SEC aims to incentivise the employment of older workers, aged 65 and above, by contributing to their salaries. Senior workers with disabilities fall under this category even if it is not explicitly stated.
More Support for Charities
The Government also introduced measures that provide more support for Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWO) like my organisation, the Disabled People’s Association (DPA), which indirectly affect persons with disabilities.
One measure, for example, is the increase in tax reductions for donations made this year. VWOs can expect to see an increase in donations from this tax reduction, which will enable them to undertake more projects and initiatives for their clients. With the Government’s extension of the Care & Share Movement until 31 March 2016, a substantial pool of resources is also made available to VWOs – in terms of introducing new projects and building capacity. VWOs will also benefit from having more student volunteers to help raise funds and do projects in the community, as the Government encourages volunteerism in schools by announcing their intention to donate to schools for causes and charities they identify.
These are well-meaning initiatives, to be sure, but I have my reservations.
Assessing them from a meta-policy perspective, these initiatives come across as an attempt to pass the buck to VWOs. VWOs do good work in caring and providing for individuals who need help and support, but it is not their duty to improve the situation and effect sustainable change in the community. This is the Government’s responsibility.
Issues with the Budget
Another concern lies in the Budget’s failure to address some of the more specific needs of persons with disabilities.
One of which is the lack of a robust support structure for students with disabilities studying in mainstream schools. Currently, allied educators help those with special needs in the classroom, and there is specialised training for teachers. But existing programs to recruit and train allied educators are inadequate, and the turnover rate is high due to the lack of career progression. More funding should be invested in programs to hire, train, and retain allied educators.
Funding should also be given to mainstream schools to establish disability support offices (DSO) to cater to the special needs of students and staff members. At present, the National University of Singapore and Singapore Management University are the only educational institutions to have DSOs. This good practice should be extended to all educational institutions, especially the primary and secondary schools which hold more students with disabilities than institutes of higher learning.
Can the Budget Win Votes?
Some political analysts have coined the term “election Budget” to describe Singapore Budgets. If Budget 2015 is truly an election Budget packed with goodies, then an interesting question arises. Can Budget 2015 help win the votes of the disability community?
With everyone asking what the Government has done for them, surely persons with disabilities are asking the same. Hopefully, this critical review has shed light on some questions surrounding the Budget, and helped inform the electoral decisions of voters with disabilities.