DPM Lawrence Wong at Shaping Hearts 2023

PM Lawrence Wong | 11 November 2023

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong at Shaping Hearts on 11 November 2023.

My Parliamentary Colleagues, especially our hosts from Tampines, Minister Masagos Zulkifli, SMS Koh Poh Koon and Mayor Desmond Choo,
Fellow Grassroots Advisers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning. Selamat Pagi, Vanaakam and Iniya Deepavali Valthukkal to all our Hindu friends, and 大家早上好. I am very happy to join all of you today for the launch of this year’s Shaping Hearts arts festival.

As you heard from Mayor Desmond just now, this is the fifth year that North East CDC has organised this event. It started in 2019, really as a way to showcase the art works of persons with disabilities, and to help them earn a meaningful living. At that time, it really was just about visual artworks. But in these five years, I think this platform has come a very long way.

In terms of visual artworks alone now, you have a really large collection of more than 350 paintings, with 150 artists. And besides showcasing visual art, you also have dance and music performances. So all these have made Shaping Hearts into Singapore’s largest inclusive arts festival, not just in the North East District, but in the whole of Singapore. Congratulations to North East for putting this together! I think many people have been involved in this – really a labour of love. The North East CDC organising team, but also so many people have been involved in this event including the students from Temasek Polytechnic, just to give them another shout out. So many community volunteers, partners from social service agency, and of course our generous sponsors – thank you everyone for making this possible.

Last week we had The Purple Parade, and today we have this Shaping Hearts event. And all of these events, help to make a big difference in building a more inclusive society in Singapore. Because through these events and activities, we challenge our own perceptions of what persons with disabilities are capable of. We mobilise and rally the community together to show support those who are different and sometimes overlooked; and we celebrate their inspiring achievements and their stories.

Take the example of Christina Lau, who is one of the talented artists participating in this year’s festival. Christina was previously a dedicated Prisons Officer. But her life took an unexpected turn when a vehicle accident left her paralyzed from the chest down. Despite her physical challenges, she did not lose hope. Instead, Christina found a new way to express herself – and she now paints regularly though mouth painting. As you can imagine, each piece of art takes many hours of painstaking work. But it gives her great meaning and satisfaction to paint. And if you ask her why she does this, she will tell you that she hopes her art pieces will bring joy and respite to others from their busy lives. Meanwhile, Christina is a woman of many talents – apart from becoming an artist, she is also an accomplished table tennis player, having won the bronze medallist twice for Singapore at the ASEAN Para Games. She is in the audience here today – let’s give her a round of applause.

Christina’s story reflects the spirit behind Shaping Hearts: that if collectively as a society we open our hearts and minds, we can be a society where everyone, regardless of their abilities, can live dignified lives, can be equal members of the Singapore family and can all contribute meaningfully to our shared future together.

This is what we all hope to achieve. The Government would like to see this happen. I am sure the vast majority, if not everyone would like to see this happen in Singapore. I think we have been making progress, if we compare where we are today to Singapore 10-15 years ago, we have made progress, we have become more inclusive. But we also know that there is still much more that we can and must do together. And we have set out various plans to enable us to move forward and make further progress. Under the Enabling Masterplan 2030, we have some very clear goals to achieve. We want to continue to strengthen support services for those with disabilities and their caregivers, from youth all the way to adulthood. We are also working towards more employment opportunities for people with disabilities, through stronger job matching and employment support. And we are continuing to study ways to make our physical environment and public spaces more accessible and barrier-free. So these are three broad areas under the Enabling Masterplan 2030 where we want to see clear improvements in over the coming years.

In addition, we have set out recently the Forward Singapore report – many of you would have seen this – it sets out our goals and a roadmap for our shared future, where we want to see a more inclusive Singapore and there are some ideas under Forward Singapore which we are also pursuing.

But to truly make a difference, it is not just Government policies, it is not just changes at the Government level. All of us in Singapore need to do our part. We will need the help of employers and businesses, to be more accommodating, to be more inclusive especially for people with disabilities. We will need the support of community groups, many of whom have the specialised skills, experience and expertise to support those with special needs; and importantly, we need the support of all Singaporeans – every one of us, to do their part to show care, compassion and empathy for persons with disabilities, and accept them for who we are. So this really has to be a whole of Singapore effort, not just by the Government, not just by community, not just by employers, not just by families and individuals – but truly by all of us working together.

I am glad that in this shared endeavour, North East CDC has been doing its part too. You heard from Mayor Desmond just now, the CDC will be launching the inaugural North East HeARTS Award to bring the joy of the arts to more persons with disabilities, especially amongst the lower income. North East CDC has also rolled out a $9 million fund to support residents with greater needs cope with the cost of living. So Mayor Desmond and his team have been working hard to support the community. I think we should acknowledge all their hard work and effort. Thank you very much.

All of these community efforts are important – North East CDC is doing a lot, we are here so we have to talk about North East CDC but I assure you, if you are living in other parts of Singapore, other CDCs have many other similar measures. But all of these community efforts complement Government measures and programmes. In particular, we know that many Singaporeans are concerned about rising prices and cost of living. It is not a problem that is unique to Singapore. This is happening around the world and you can see why this is happening. There has been a war in Europe, Ukraine going on for nearly two years now. And then more recently we have conflict between Israel and Hamas and that threatens to become a wider conflict in the Middle East. And all of these global uncertainties and disruptions do have an impact on food and energy supplies. And that is why prices everywhere – every country that you go to, prices are high and people do feel the impact of the cost of living.

It is why the Government has been doing more too. In this year’s budget, we enhanced our Assurance Package and recently we also did more in terms of rolling out a Cost of Living Package – which means that more help is on the way for every Singaporean. Next month in December, every adult Singaporean can get up to $800 in cash. Up to $800, so the low-income will of course get $800 but this applies to every adult. So if in your household, you have two retirees, $1,600 goes straight into your bank account. If you are high income, you will not get the full amount but still, you will get something – you will get $200 or $500, depending on your income levels. So help is coming in cash, you do not have to apply, it will go straight into your bank account next month. In early January, we are giving $500 of CDC vouchers to every household. So CDC voucher is not for the individual, but every household will get it – landed property, private property, HDB – all will get something. So every household will get $500 of CDC Vouchers, half of it can be used for supermarkets and the other half can be used at hawker centres or heartland shops.

So these are some of the things that will be coming your way. On top of that, HDB households will get more support in terms of utility rebates, and S&CC rebates. These have been announced, the help will be progressively disbursed in the coming months and of course we continue to monitor the situation closely, and if the situation were to worsen, if inflation were to worsen and things remain very difficult, certainly the Government will do more to help Singaporeans.

At the end of the day, what we want to always cherish is the solidarity, the unity that we have in Singapore. We are just a tiny little island and this little place is all we have. So if all of us together stay united, show care and concern for each other, look out for the more vulnerable amongst us and maintain always that strong sense of unity and trust within our society, we can overcome any challenge that come our way. And we can together, build a future that is more equal for every Singaporean, one that is fairer and more inclusive.

So that is what we hope to achieve together, not just by the Government but together with everyone in Singapore – our community groups, our employers and businesses as well as families and individuals. Together, let us look forward to building a better Singapore for the years to come.

Thank you very much. Please enjoy the festival.