Sunday, September 16, 2012

Making an enemy out of its citizens (II) On singles.

Ironically, I have been living peacefully with the social policy on the singles until recently when Lee Hsien Loong finally granted his “amnesty” on the sinful singles this Sep during his National Day Rally (NDP).

Prior to that, citizens who are single are banned from direct buying of HBD flats and are also subject to age limit, flat size limit, as well as the location of the flat purchased from the resale market during my early days of being single. Although the fairness and effectiveness of such policy is highly questionable, I managed to coerce myself into accepting the “bigger” picture of a policy embedded with family-oriented value in promoting marriage and procreation.

Rules have relaxed since then but the policy of barring singles’ access to new flat remains until this NDP. Singles are at last allowed access to new HDB public flats though tagged with certain restrictions to be released in due time for sure.

The new opening for singles soon drew responses from those who have direct interest in the new public flats and resale flats (this group of people comprising our very own citizens, new citizens and PRs) and it is such comments made by such people that I feel indignant about.

Opinions are that singles:
1) Waste precious land space by living alone in a flat
(disclaimer: in a land-scarce country which could afford tens of golf courses dedicated to a small group of people at the tip of hierarchy seems more justifiable than the needs of ordinary citizens; also, the continual release of land parcels for private housing development seems to contradict the land scarce claim)

2) Create more demand on the existing new flats and result in even longer wait for for existing applicants
(disclaimer: who is in control of the supply? Size of demand is relative to the size of supply.)

3) Cause an increase in the pricing of new flats due to limited supply
(disclaimer: who is in control of the supply? Size of demand is relative to the size of supply.)

Them and Us

It is also at this juncture came my realization of how divisive such policy is, introduced by those haughty-mighty and self-proclaimed wiser-than-all policy makers, in discriminating a segment of our citizens and consequently creating an enemy among citizens. In this case, pitting married citizens (as well as new citizens and PRs) against single citizens.

Undeniably, self-interests underlie the principle of those who are against the idea of singles owning a new flat, disregarding the social and economic contribution made by the singles towards this nation which I will further elaborate in the later part of this post. This group of people, inevitably present in anywhere of the world, who will self righteously place their self interests at the expense of others. But more even detrimental is the divisiveness of this housing policy that demarcates the citizens into you and me, the married and the single. A policy, and one of the many, that “encourages” people to see others differently despite the emphasis of the need to be “as one united people” in our pledge.

On the effectiveness of this housing policy, it does not serve its purpose in encouraging marriage but instead penalize singles and ostracize them who are as much the citizens of this country as the married ones. Especially for the male singles who have served their mandatory NS for two and a half years (during my era). It sends a clear message that our male single citizens are of less worth than that of a PR couple who gets to enjoy absolute liberty in buying a resale flat of any size and location.

One can rationalize such policy and convince oneself into the acceptance of such policy for the sake of social engineering. But on the moral grounds of justice and equality, it remains outrageously discriminative and undignified.

I have heard no complaint about the discriminative policy on the singles from any of my friends who are singles, not even from male singles. For they who have served the NS seem even more receptive towards the policy ban on singles than I was.

Singles have been penalized explicitly in the housing policy but have remained reticent against the policy. Yet, the removal of the ban on singles’ access to new flats immediately exposed the perception of some where singles are regarded as liabilities to the society and therefore should continue to subject to the deprivation of a new HDB flat, despite their contributions in their own way.

My purpose is not here to highlight or boast the contributions of the singles but to give acknowledgement to their contributions. In fact, no contributions made from any citizen in any way should be belittled.

Generally speaking, singles pay taxes (not an issue of whether singles or married ones are paying more), economically and socially supporting their own families when other married siblings live away from parents and as well as lending support to married colleagues at work. Actual scenarios vary according to individuals and different work industries. A single at work might receive more support from his married colleagues than vice verse. Or that married children living away from parents will contribute more financially and time to their parents than the single sibling living with parents.

However, on a general view and economically speaking, for the same salary that a single and each spouse of a married couple with children draw, there are higher chances of singles paying taxes or more taxes as they do not enjoy any child rebates.

At work place, married couples are given child care leave, maternity leave for women on top of their sick leave. Such child care leave and maternity leave are shouldered by other married and single colleagues. I am not looking at work efficiency whereby some employees can produce more work in fewer work days or employees working on their leave but in terms of official job benefits where singles are entitled less off days and are therefore required to work more days. For some work places, such as my previous work place, there are times where mothers with children are given privileges whereby singles like me are expected to cover for them for after work hours or given more time-consuming tasks at no extra monetary compensation. It was regarded as a form of duty. Again, this should not be interpreted as a form of complaint against married mothers but to point out that singles’ contribution, in some cases, towards family values.

Singles do not procreate any economic digits towards the contribution of our nation's GDP, nonetheless, it should neither be a sin for not doing so.

Socially speaking, for singles who could not afford or who choose not to buy a resale flat will have to live with his or her parents. In cases where married siblings move away from parents, siblings who are single are then 'thrust' upon more responsibilities in taking care of the parents who they live with. Caring for them spiritually and financially too, depending on the relative financial status of the single compared to married children. Therefore, there is a portion of singles who contribute in terms of time, companionship and money towards their own families. Singles are not what the policy made them out to be detrimental to our family values.

Therefore, it is absurd and unfair to penalize singles in terms of flat ownership based on their failure to comply to marriage due to their life choices or forced circumstances for the sole sake of social engineering where the effectiveness of such a policy is questionable to begin with.

Effective tool for promoting marriage?

How would barring singles from direct purchase of new flat encourage marriage among them? Are policy makers implying that people should marry for the sake of getting a new flat and that people who do not conform to marrying for flats will be penalized? I am not advocating childless couples to be penalized but if the principle of penalizing singles is to encourage marriages which ultimately aims at procreation, then that same principle should apply to childless couples too, who arguably have the right to choose their lifestyle or who might subject to forced circumstances too. For raising a child and marriage are both a life long task and a life-long relationship. It is really up to individuals to choose their own paths. Policies could be used to mould certain behaviour or to achieve certain outcome but they should not be used to penalize on a specific group of citizens in a criminal way. We are not dealing with macro or micro economic principle over here but human lives.

I have never queried much into this policy and could live with family-oriented values as the norm. On hindsight, I realized I have been brainwashed into the acceptance of such blatant housing policy at the expense of another group of our citizens. And now to discover how despicable and myopic it is to discriminate our own citizens, categorizing them, labelling them according to short term needs and results determined by policy makers who now seem to reverse or contradict life-affecting policy as and when they deem (eg. the stop at 2 policy, bilingual policy). The worst of all is the subtle attempt to normalize an unfair policy on a group of citizens that would inevitably give rise to conflicts of interests among other groups of citizens.

After what all is said, housing should not be used as a social engineering tool and should neither be used to split our citizens.