"So what if our unemployment is 3%? To the person affected, it is 100%," Tan Chuan Jin

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The following is an excerpt of Minister for Social and Family Development, Tan Chuan-Jin’s Speech delivered at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy’s 12th anniversary celebration.


Public policy needs to strike a practical balance. Practical politics is about making those choices to do so. There may be trade offs and “hard choices”. But we must not merely ruminate and contemplate; we must, urgently, negotiate and inaugurate new frames to reflect our joint values, mutual interests that are because of, not despite, contestation, debates and disagreements.

Let me share some examples of what we are grappling with. Tonight is a good example – in the university rankings, National University of Singapore is the top in Asia. This is due in no small part to the talent it attracts from all over the world. Tonight on this stage, I am conscious that there are talents born in the Philippines and now US citizen, born in Malaysia and now British citizen, and born in India, and now a US citizen as well as a Singaporean PR. I am not a talent like they are but in case you wanted to know, I was born in Singapore and will always remain a Singapore citizen! Of course, how can I forget the other talent who began tonight’s proceedings, Kishore, a Singaporean through and through. But as you will be aware, there will be those who wonder about our foreign friends who are here.

This is a real tension. Singapore is not immune to the forces that drive Britain’s exit, that fuels Trump’s incredible rise, and agitates Hillary Clinton’s vacillation on the TPP. These are exactly the same pressures I grapple with when I had to decide on our manpower policies. I know we benefit by being open. The diversity brings in companies and keep companies here. And as the economy grows, it generates employment and result in real wage increases across the board. But I also know that at a local level, it generates competition. For the ones affected, it is real. As I’ve said in the past, and today this echoes what Professor Quah has said – so what if our unemployment is 3%? To the person affected, it is 100%. Both narratives hold true. What do you do?

On the social front, we also face tensions. How much do you do? How far do you go? Where does providing social support and welfare end, and helping one to stand on one’s feet begin? Where does respecting the rights of the individual end – and unwarranted intervention begin?

For vulnerable adults, we plan to put forward a new piece of legislation that enables the State to intervene in high-risk cases, and allow us to bring the vulnerable adult to a place of safety. Earlier this year, we announced a ‘Safe and Strong Families’ pilot project to strengthen the family and preserve parent-child relationships, and to do so even before vulnerable children are placed in alternative care due to unfortunate circumstances. KidStart will see us being involved with vulnerable families even before birth, because we believe that early intervention increases the probability of better outcomes. There are inherent tensions as to when and how we intervene. Should we be so presumptuous as to step into other people’s lives?


Full text of his Speech here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/tan-chuan-jin/ideas-and-public-policy/1202957756413664

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