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新加坡的福利制度

15/02/10

作者/来源:The Economist online http://www.economist.com
新加坡文献馆译

新加坡的福利制度
吝啬的保姆
这个城市国家严格对待贫困者

享有绝对的说话权,新加坡政府仍然可以有灵活性。谁会想到它兴建赌场?不过,有一项政策是无法逆转的,那就是,新加坡对公共福利的反感。政府的态度是:贫穷是你自己的错失。公民本身有义务为将来储蓄,去依赖家庭成员帮助,而不是指望从政府的手上得到任何救济,除非已经身陷低谷再也无法生存。对家庭的依托延伸到老年:退休者可以起诉不奉养父母的孩子。在政府思维里“福利”是一个肮脏的词汇,等同懒惰和浪费。新加坡有其保姆心态,但这绝不是一个纵容的保姆。

严重的经济衰退导致9月份的公民失业率高达4.1%,- 对新加坡而言这是一个高的失业率 – 高失业率并没有改变社会的固有观念:救济金不是一件好事。于2月14日开放的赌场,对就业有所帮助,其中12月经季节性调整的失业率回落到3%。

政府设有一些针对性的计划协助少数贫困者,包括来自贫穷家庭的学生和无人照顾的老人。但要取得这些协助必须经过严峻的合格测试,少数人成功。只有最贫困的公民才有资格申请公共援助;目前有三千人符合资格。遭辞退职工不会自动得到失业补助金。相反的,他们被安排加入所谓“职工福利”和培训计划。

申请者抱怨寻求帮助的程序不仅艰辛令人劳累也具有侮辱意味。事实上,这可能就是计划设计的一部分,要阻止不劳而获的谋利者。官员蔑视欧洲式的福利制度认为这是天生的懒惰。社区发展青年和体育部是负责这些计划的主管,认为补助计划只能提供“跳板”让贫困者自力更生。他们的优先工作是让人们重返工作岗位而非减轻失去収入的痛苦。一年前的财政刺激方案是应付金融危机,拨款51亿新元(36亿美元)的就业措施,包括公司财务补贴以挽留员工。那些持续无法找到工作的失业者可以加入政府的培训计划,在12月份,有169,000名失业工人加入这一行列。

许多新加坡人执著于自己的工作,并以置疑的眼光看待游手好闲。政府不会慷慨施舍,担心这种做法会削弱工人的职业观念,也同时会增加纳税人的负担。但是,即便薄弱的社会安全网也反映出这种熟悉并且在多年来不断强化了的信念。在倍受煎熬的社群工作的社工中很少会埋怨微弱的补贴金,或者感叹申请程式的漫长。他们认为新加坡必须排除谋取不劳而获之徒,以避免福利制度的庞大开支。但是,他们的下一个念头是有好些家庭因为没有能力偿还购屋贷款而失去住房被迫露宿街头。

没有人怀疑富裕的新加坡有能力做的更慷慨。 2008年,世界银行以购买力平价的人均国内生产总值计算,评估新加坡为世界上第三富有的国家。大兄长式政府是不会让图谋骗取福利补贴之徒蒙蔽的。当到来采访的新闻工作者在华人密集地拍摄拾荒的老年妇女在检破烂,并且苦诉无家可归时,政府立即出面澄清这只是一名不幸的屋主,她根本无须乞求。事实上,在新加坡的组屋区很难看到严重的贫困现象。公共房屋是处在良好的状态,政府不会让贫民窟出现。派发救济品的组织是存在的,但外劳是最先的获益者。

但正在迅速老龄化的新加坡仍然面对日益严重的社会不平等挑战。青年及体育部表示到了2030年,在5个新加坡人中有1人将超过65岁(瑞银的估计则是2020年)。社会最低层的收入已经停滞不前,甚至于在下降,富人和中产阶级的差距进一步扩大。不享有任何失业保障的中年专业人士人中的长期失业人数在攀升,这是根据一名金融专家的博客说法。

本地人对越来越多的外劳涌入感到不满:35%的3百万劳动人口是外国人。公司为了节省成本是进口半熟练和非熟练工人,最新统计是有680,000名外劳- 而不雇用本地人,这类工人需另外支付养老金。官方的保证,即移民创造增长的说法并没有让本地人信服。李光耀,新加坡兴建者是今日的资政仍然雄心勃勃的依赖移民,相信新移民有助新加坡人提高警觉意识。在去年7月接受美国国家地理采访时他表示,如果新加坡人落后于“饿坏了”的外国人,是因为“不努力而落后”,那么,这不是国家的问题。

这一个新萌生的反弹,最终可能软化李光耀制定的反福利政策。新加坡经济学会 – 这不是一个激进组织 – 最近建议政府设立一个更强大的安全网,从提供失业保险作为开始。这将促进社会的稳定和鼓励新加坡人支持一个更开放的移民政策,它认为。设计得当,这些措施将不会抑制工作动力和有损节俭习惯。 “虽然自力更生是一个很好的一般原则,但不能无效益也不能用到极端尽头“。

Welfare in Singapore
The stingy nanny
The city-state stays strict with the needy

Feb 13th 2010 | SINGAPORE | From The Economist online
http://www.economist.com/displayStory.cfm?story_id=15524092&source=hptextfeature

FOND of having the last word, Singapore’s government can nevertheless be flexible. Who would have thought it would be building casinos? But one policy that shows no sign of reversing is Singapore’s antipathy towards public welfare. The state’s attitude can be simply put: being poor here is your own fault. Citizens are obliged to save for the future, rely on their families and not expect any handouts from the government unless they hit rock bottom. The emphasis on family extends into old age: retired parents can sue children who fail to support them. In government circles “welfare” remains a dirty word, cousin to sloth and waste. Singapore may be a nanny state, but it is by no means an indulgent nanny.

The aftershock of a deep recession, which pushed unemployment among citizens up to 4.1% in September—high for Singapore—has not altered the popular belief that the dole is bad for society. The casinos, which open on February 14th, have already helped reduce unemployment, which by December had fallen back to 3%, seasonally adjusted.

The government does run a handful of schemes directed at some of the needy, from low-income students to the unassisted elderly. But these benefits are rigorously means-tested and granted only sparingly. The most destitute citizens’ families may apply for public assistance; only 3,000 currently qualify. Laid-off workers receive no automatic benefits. Instead they are sorted into “workfare” and training schemes.

Applicants complain that the process of seeking help is made tiresome and humiliating. Indeed that could be the point, supposing it deters free-riders. Officials take a dim view of European-style welfare systems, which are said to beget laziness. The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS), which administers the various schemes, says theirs are designed as a “springboard” to self-reliance. Getting people back to work takes priority over relieving any temporary drop in income. In a fiscal stimulus unveiled a year ago in response to the financial crisis, S$5.1 billion ($3.6 billion) was allocated for employment measures, including grants to companies to retain staff. Those who remain out of work can join a government training scheme; by December, 169,000 unemployed workers had done so.

Many Singaporeans are wedded to their jobs and look askance at idleness of any kind. The government is leery of generous handouts, fearing they might undercut the work ethic while burdening taxpayers. But the thinness of the safety net also reflects a widespread article of faith, recited and reinforced over the years. Even among the social workers who work in hard-hit communities there is surprisingly little frustration at the meagreness of the handouts on offer or at the lengthy application process. One explains that Singapore needs to weed out undeserving claimants and shakes his head at the potential cost of a comprehensive welfare service. Yet in his next breath he mentions a number of local families who have been forced to sleep rough since mortgage lenders foreclosed on their flats.

Nobody doubts that wealthy Singapore could be more generous. In 2008 the World Bank rated it the third richest country in the world, in terms of GDP per head at purchasing-power parity. And the idea that its Big-Brotherly government might be outfoxed by conniving welfare queens seems odd. When a visiting news crew filmed an elderly woman scavenging in Chinatown and bemoaning her homelessness, the government promptly identified her as a miserly flat-owner who did not need to beg. Indeed, acute poverty is hard to spot in Singapore. Public housing is in good shape; no slums are allowed to fester. Soup kitchens do exist, but foreign labourers are often first in line.

But Singapore still faces the challenge of rising inequality in a society that is also rapidly ageing. By 2030, says MCYS, one in five Singaporeans will be over 65 (UBS, whose largest shareholder is Singapore’s sovereign-wealth fund, has estimated the date at 2020). Incomes have stagnated or even fallen at the bottom of the spectrum, as the rich pull further ahead of the middle classes. Long-term unemployment among middle-aged professionals, who do not qualify for workfare, is on the rise, says Leong Sze Hian, a financial expert and blogger.

Native resentment is also growing against the influx of migrant workers: 35% of the workforce of 3m is now foreign. It is often cheaper for companies to import semi-skilled and unskilled workers—there were 680,000 at last count—than to hire locals, who require pension contributions. Official reassurances that migrants create growth do not convince those competing for scarce jobs. Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding father and still its “minister mentor” has maintained that ambitious migrants help to keep citizens on their toes. In an interview given to National Geographic last July he said that if native Singaporeans lag behind “hungry” foreigners because “the spurs are not stuck on [their] hinds”, that is not the state’s problem to solve.

This nascent backlash may eventually soften the anti-welfare tone set by Mr Lee. The Economic Society of Singapore (ESS)—not exactly a radical cell—recently proposed to a government committee that it should build a more robust safety net, starting with unemployment insurance. This would promote social stability and help muster public support for Singapore’s open-door migration policies, it argues. Properly designed, such measures would not create disincentives to work and thrift. “While self-reliance is a good principle in general, it may be neither efficient nor just if taken to extremes,” noted the ESS.

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