Should Singapore have Universal Basic Income?

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The Swiss voted against a proposal to provide every citizen a universal basic income of $2,500 Swiss francs (SGD3500) from the government, on Sunday, 5 June 2016.

77% of Swiss voters were against the measure which would have provided those who earned less than the minimum to have their pay topped up.

Now, take that system and put into Singapore’s context.

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Most of us who work, probably won’t need it. After all, most of us earn more than the average income.

And while, robots and tech disruptors are growing in Singapore, it is unlikely to cause us to lose our jobs. For many years now, the government has been encouraging companies and employees to harness the power of technology and innovation to boost productivity.

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Recently, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam urged workers to “use technology rather than be used by technology”.

Indeed, if we turn to basic income as a way to stop market or technological advancement, we might hinder economic progress.

Also, giving everyone an income unconditionally, regardless of employment status, rich or poor, means that those who don’t really need the help will get it.

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Yes, our social security system is dependent on one’s employment. But if we really think about it, having a job is really the basic right of every human being.

Even the labour movement has been pushing for jobs to be the basic dignity of every Singaporean.

The labour movement has continuously advocated for enhancing training and skills upgrading as a way to help workers hold on to their jobs.

In its recommendations for Budget 2016, the NTUC said:

“Our concerns also include the ability of our workers to maintain their competitiveness in both local and overseas markets. We must pay more attention to the acquisition of new skills for the future jobs that our workers aspire to take on.”

Even if a person is jobless, there are assistance to help you upskill or look for a job and even make a mid-career switch to another industry. All these, just to ensure that every one has a job to hold on to.

Hence, more help can then be given if you are able to hold on to your job. Workfare Income Supplement Scheme and other social security systems and assistance can then be given to those who need it.

So, do we even need universal basic income?

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Arthur Lee

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