Thursday, January 31, 2013

Coping with a rise in numbers: S'poreans' fears


Home prices, competition for jobs, overcrowding among top worries

The Straits Times
January 31, 2013

MANY Singaporeans reacted with surprise - or alarm - at the 6.9 million population projected for 2030, with several wondering whether the country can cope with the 30 per cent increase.

Although the swell is 17 years away, they are worried about several issues that they say they are already facing now.

These include competition for jobs, cost of living, home prices and congestion, according to street interviews by The Straits Times yesterday, one day after the Government released its Population White Paper.

Of the 100 people aged 15 to 73, exactly half rejected the idea of Singapore having 6.9 million people, while another 35 were unsure. Only 15 said it was a good idea.

To help boost the population, more foreigners will be let in and their numbers are expected to grow from 1.49 million - as of June last year - to around 2.3 million to 2.5 million by 2030, according to the White Paper.

This raised concerns about whether homes will be affordable.

Even though enough land has been set aside to build 700,000 new Housing Board homes by 2030, one-third of those interviewed worry that prices will be high as a result of the influx of foreigners.

They wanted the Government to keep a lid on home prices and raise the income ceiling to qualify for subsidies. Some wondered if new HDB flats would further shrink in size.

"The Government says it will build more homes. But what is the point if they are all much smaller, like the homes in Hong Kong? Our quality of living will go down," said Mr Ganeesan Packrisamy, a 50-year-old driver.

Others, especially those who expect to retire by 2030, expressed concern about health-care costs, and asked if more could be done to further cut their medical bills.

Overcrowding was another major concern, with many expressing doubt that the country's infrastructure could cope with 6.9 million people, despite the Government's pledge to plan ahead.

They feel the congestion will worsen the already crowded roads and public transport.

Said analyst Chun Hui, 23: "It is already a tight squeeze when we board trains. Will we end up having to be pushed into the train by staff, like they do in Tokyo?"

The biggest concern, however, was competition for jobs, with 41 of the 100 interviewed having misgivings on whether Singaporeans would be able to land good jobs.

Despite government assurances of maintaining a Singaporean core, some like bank consultant Ben Tan, 43, want laws to ensure employers hire Singaporeans first.

Others called for more skills upgrading, reserving jobs for the less-educated, and measures to raise wages to match inflation.

They also wonder whether foreigners would be able to integrate with Singaporeans, given their different cultural behaviours and ability to communicate in English.

Housing agent Hamidah Gaffar, 59, suggested giving foreigners more help in integration, such as free English lessons and handbooks on the Singaporean way of life.

But people like cook Goh Him Boo feel the idea of having 6.9 million people is realistic and necessary.

Said the 58-year-old: "It's better to have more people, otherwise our shopping centres will become all quiet."

Added housekeeper Shanti Dorasamy, 41: "We'll have more people to support our population and have more babies."

The White Paper on a Sustainable Population for a Dynamic Singapore is available online at http://population.sg/


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