IT WAS opined last February by then-Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, during a grassroots dialogue, that last year's Budget still had a 10-per-cent gap, referring especially to help for Singaporeans with special needs.
He added that the issue was brought to the attention of the Finance Minister.
In October, a three-year study by the Lien Centre for Social Innovation, entitled Unmet Social Needs in Singapore, highlighted shortcomings of our social safety net and identified six vulnerable groups, including the disabled and mentally ill.
There are 131,000 disabled persons (3 per cent of the population, excluding those older than 64) in Singapore, according to the report Disability at a Glance 2010, by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.
Singapore and Myanmar were the only two of the 10 South-east Asian countries that were not part of the "Ratification or signatory of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and its optional protocol".
Like how National Service drilled into us not to leave a comrade behind, if Singapore wants to be a mature, progressive and all-inclusive society, we must, above all else, look after our less fortunate, including those who are not fully independent.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong set an example by donating his salary increase over the years to charity. Some Singaporeans have also shown the way by helping different voluntary welfare organisations, non-profit organisations and charities.
The Government has been helping the needy through the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS).
But with the third-highest per capita GDP (ranked by the International Monetary Fund), we could show more of our Singapore Spirit and do more in terms of greater tax relief, grants/subsidies for services (public transport, developmental courses) or additional healthcare support.
MCYS' Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016 for the disabled has a vision of "an inclusive Singapore where every person with disability can maximise his potential and is embraced as an integral member of our society".
This would be heavily dependent on this year's Budget, to set the master plan off on the right footing. Singaporeans are anticipating an economic slowdown, which makes this year's Budget crucial.
To quote from the Lien Centre report: "Meeting needs is a shared responsibility between the people and their government - a social contract". The principle of self-reliance as a social safety net, which might have been more valid in the past, needs a good re-examination.At a mere 3% of the total Singaporean population, the seemingly insignificant number is still a concern and cause for more attention in public service and financial aid. An essential note for policy makers is that the community affected by disability is not restricted to the 131, 000 individuals. Family members, caretakers, nurses, doctors, welfare organizations, volunteers and charities are all directly involved in the making of better lives for such individuals.
The coming Budget is a great opportunity for the Government to reinvent itself, taking one not-so-small step towards a "new normal".
While a prevailing can-do attitude towards raising the accessibility standards in Singapore is admirable, the city planners have to do more to enable individuals with physical disabilities, who are afflicted with vision impairments, or are part of the growing group of elderly above 65, to enjoy a barrier-free lifestyle. Societal attitudes towards the elderly and disabled are also hindering the lifestyle of this disadvantaged group.
Communities should provide an environment that provides more activities and opportunities for involvement for the physically disabled and elderly, so more would feel encouraged to lead a more active lifestyle. Enhancing the accessibility of local transit systems, public spaces and housing estates would enable more individuals to engage in life.