Last Tuesday saw more than 300,000 households – nearly a quarter of those eligible – claim the latest tranche of Community Development Council (CDC) vouchers on the first day of their release. 

Of the $300 in vouchers given out, half can be used in participating heartland shops and hawker stalls, and another half in participating supermarkets.

This brings the total value of CDC vouchers disbursed by the Government to each citizen household to $500 since 2021.

This amount may seem modest to some, but should be viewed in the context of broader efforts to help all Singaporeans, particularly the less well-off, to cope with rising prices.

Despite a softening economy, high inflation looks set to persist in 2023. The Monetary Authority of Singapore expects headline inflation this year to be between 5.5 per cent and 6.5 per cent, similar to that of last year.

While Singapore’s expected inflation rate of 6 per cent in 2022 would be the highest since 2008, growth in consumer prices has at least been lower than those of advanced countries such as the United States (around 8 per cent), Britain (more than 9 per cent) and the global figure of 8.9 per cent, as per Euromonitor International’s December forecasts.

Still, questions have been raised about the amount disbursed through CDC vouchers and whether the vouchers ought to be given to affluent households. Can the Government afford to give more? And are vouchers the best way of helping citizens with the rising cost of living?

Targeted support necessary, but don’t begrudge broad-based help

Optimising fiscal resources requires that social support be targeted at those less well-off. Structural support in the form of the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) for lower-income workers, Silver Support for retirees, and the Goods and Services Tax Voucher (GSTV) are channelled towards the less affluent.

In addition to these automatic disbursements, there remains a need for targeted support for a smaller group of vulnerable Singaporeans through the Community Care (ComCare) schemes, along with accompanying social services.

The Assurance Package, intended to help Singaporeans with the GST increase, gives every adult citizen a cash payout ranging from $700 to $1,600, depending on income and housing type. Lower-income Singaporean seniors will receive additional cash payments of $600 to $900 through the GSTV – Cash (Seniors’ Bonus), while those living in Housing Board flats will also receive additional utilities rebates, with the quantum depending on flat size.

This reflects an approach to social transfers that has become particularly salient in recent years: Everyone receives something, but the less well-off receive more. This helps to engender inclusivity while ensuring that the bulk of support goes towards those who need it most. The CDC vouchers, along with the baseline cash payout under the Assurance Package, are the component of support everyone receives.

Those who do not need the vouchers may donate them to charity, and should be encouraged to do so. This fosters a spirit of community giving, where the better-off lend a helping hand to fellow citizens rather than rely solely on the state to redistribute resources.

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