Straits Times: Give temporary cash aid to jobless: Sylvia Lim

Budget debate

HELPING THE RETRENCHED AND THE NEEDY: TWO IDEAS

• BY AARON LOW

THE Government should provide temporary financial relief of up to $500 a month for workers who have lost their jobs in the recession, said Non-Constituency MP Sylvia Lim yesterday.

“In this most trying of times, this will be an important relief to job seekers while they continue their job search,” said the Workers’ Party chairman, mooting the idea of a “Job Seekers’ Allowance”.

Noting that the Government rolled out programmes that paid jobless older and low-skilled workers a small allowance while they retrain, she said there were still gaps in the system that a Job Seekers’ Allowance would plug.

For instance, in the case of the government-sponsored training programme, called Skills Programme for Upgrading and Resilience (Spur), workers will still have to pay a small course fee, she said.

Courses may end before the economic situation improves, and along with them, the allowances paid to the jobless.

“While it is right that these unemployed Singaporeans must be upskilled wherever possible, full employment at the national level is unlikely.

“The Government will have to provide a policy response and safety net to these citizens in the medium to long term.”

To ensure that the scheme is a targeted one, she suggested a means test be implemented to weed out those who have high levels of savings and assets. And only those looking for a job will qualify.

Three People’s Action Party MPs rose to challenge her on the suggestion, including labour chief Lim Swee Say.

Ms Ellen Lee (Sembawang GRC) wanted to know how this scheme would be funded and whether more funds would have to be drawn from the reserves.

Ms Lim said that assuming 100,000 people were helped at the cost of $500 a month over six months, this would amount to $300 million – less than one-tenth of the $4.5 billion Jobs Credit scheme.

“Some of that money (from Jobs Credit) is better used in this instance, to put it directly into the hands of people who need it most rather than to companies who may have no intention of retaining anyone.”

Mr Yeo Guat Kwang (Aljunied GRC) pointed out that the needy already had channels they could turn to for help, including jobs matching and financial assistance from government agencies.

But Ms Lim said the current amount of assistance varied greatly, whereas her scheme had clear guidelines on how much help can be given, depending on an applicant’s last-drawn salary.

Mr Lim said he could not see a link between Ms Lim’s scheme and how it could save jobs for Singaporeans.

He also rejected her claims that this scheme would be superior to Spur.

He said: “Not only will they receive the $600 per month of training allowances, they will also have a new skill. But most importantly, we believe that many will be able to secure new jobs.”

Help for retrenched workers was also a call made by other MPs, including Madam Ho Geok Choo (West Coast GRC) and Dr Amy Khor (Hong Kah GRC).

Both wanted the Government to be more flexible towards retrenched workers who cannot make their HDB housing mortgage payments on time.

Madam Ho asked the Government to let them make just the interest payments on their loans.

aaronl@sph.com.sg

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