Singapore’s lower-wage workers, lower-income families and children with special needs are vulnerable groups hit hard by Covid-19, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

Unveiling more initiatives to support these groups, Heng highlighted the importance of Singapore’s “social compact” in his Budget speech on Feb 16. 

"Beyond economic opportunities, what is fundamental is our sense of purpose and our sense of togetherness... Ensuring equal opportunities for all and supporting the needy and vulnerable segments of our society are integral to strengthening our social compact."

To better support lower-income families, Community Link (ComLink) will be expanded nationwide over the next two years to eventually cover 14,000 lower-income families with children.

Introduced in 2019 by the Ministry of Social and Family Development, ComLink currently supports some 1,000 families living in rental flats. ComLink runs various programmes, including reading and numeracy programmes for young children, sports activities for youth and skills upgrading and job matching services for residents.

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See: $900 million pledged to Household Support Package, households to receive $100 vouchers


Early retirement

An additional $200 million will be pumped into the Senior Worker Early Adopter Grant and the Part-Time Re-employment Grant, after take-up rates for the two grants “exceeded expectations” following their announcement at last year’s Budget, said Heng.

This comes as Singapore prepares to raise retirement and re-employment ages a year earlier than originally intended. First announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the National Day Rally in 2019, the government and labour movement will implement the new retirement age and re-employment age of 63 and 68 in 2021. 

More details will be provided by the Ministry of Manpower at a later date. 

See also: Government injects additional $11 billion in Covid-19 relief measures in Budget 2021


Singaporeans with special needs

People with disabilities may also face challenges finding employment, said Heng.

To that end, MSF announced last month that it is working with SG Enable to create some 1,200 job opportunities for people with disabilities this year. 

For children with special needs, the government is piloting an Inclusive Support Programme, said Heng. 

“This pilot integrates the provision of early intervention and early childhood services for children who require up to medium levels of early intervention support. Many of these children are already attending preschools, and this programme will allow them to be more meaningfully engaged alongside other children. We believe this will benefit all children and help them develop social skills and social inclusion. ”

Charitable causes

Heng also unveiled a push for charitable donations, with initiatives to support donations made to Institutions of a Public Character (IPCs).

The government will also set aside $20 million for the new Change for Charity grant. The grant will match Community Chest donations, while co-funding one-off development costs borne by businesses setting up donation functions.

“There is potential for businesses to do more to facilitate spontaneous acts of daily giving, for example, by encouraging their customers to make donations at the point of transaction,” said Heng.

Heng also noted Singapore’s comparatively ”high” 250% tax deduction on donations. Originally set to lapse at the end of 2021, the tax deduction will be extended for another two years, now expiring at the end of 2023. 

The additional government support for Tote Board’s Enhanced Fund-Raising Programme will also be extended by one year.

Charities can apply to receive dollar-for-dollar matching on eligible donations, which are raised from projects in FY2021, up to a cap of $250,000 per applicant. This includes donations raised through approved digital platforms. 

ComChest’s SHARE as One matching period will also be extended to FY2023.

The scheme provides dollar-for-dollar matching for new and additional donations through the SHARE programme, which allows companies, employees and individuals to donate regularly, he added.

More details will be shared at MSF’s committee of supply debate.

Finally, to encourage corporate volunteerism, the Business and IPC Partnership Scheme will be extended for another two years, until the end of 2023.

“I encourage our corporates to partner our IPCs. Together, we can make a bigger impact to meet the diverse needs of our community,” said Heng.

Panneer Selvam, partner at Ernst & Young Solutions, praised the extension. “Extending the Business and IPC Partnership Scheme as well as the 250% tax deductions on donations made to Institutions of a Public Character until 2023 will encourage more charitable giving, volunteering and collaboration from individuals and corporates alike."