The 25 Most Important Issues Facing Singapore in 2024

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Picture of Thum Ping Tjin

Thum Ping Tjin

Thum Ping Tjin (“PJ”) is Founder and Managing Director of New Naratif. A Rhodes Scholar, Commonwealth Scholar, Olympic athlete, and the only Singaporean to swim the English Channel, his work centres on Southeast Asian governance and politics. His most recent work is "Nationalism and Decolonisation in Singapore: The Malayan Generation, 1953-63" (Routledge, 2024).

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In Stage 1 of The Citizens’ Agenda 2024, New Naratif asked Singaporeans what they think are the most important issues facing Singapore, and what they’d like political candidates to talk about in the next general election. Here’s what our readers said (and didn’t say).

What do Singaporeans really think about the current state of Singapore and the most important issues facing the country? In Stage 1 of The Citizens’ Agenda, conducted between 17-24 May 2024, we asked Singaporeans to answer the following question:

In your opinion, what issues do you consider important to Singapore and think that the candidates in the upcoming General Election should talk about as they compete for your vote? Please give as much detail as possible.

1,238 people responded. As before, we worked with a survey company, Vase.ai, to ensure that we surveyed a statistically representative sample of Singaporeans. The responses were extremely diverse, intelligent, and passionate. If you’d like to see the (anonymised) raw data, here it is.

As in previous years, we read through all 1,238 responses and then grouped all the responses into 25 broad issues. People brought up many different topics, from emerging artificial intelligence challenges to environmental issues to the genocide in Gaza. 

A note on our survey company: Vase.ai is a survey platform that has 3.6 million people across Southeast Asia in its panel. Through its platform, it aims to provide surveys as an automated service, thus making it easy and affordable to run statistically-accurate surveys across the region in different countries. However, this automation also involves constraints and trade-offs, and one trade-off is that we have to conform to its pre-defined panel demography. This includes only two genders (male and female), the CMIO racial categorisation, and a geographic location based on Singapore’s planning areas rather than constituency or other commonly-used geographic boundaries.

The Issues Summarised

For brevity, we summarised each issue in under 280 characters (including the title). Each issue includes examples of the questions and concerns that people raised. Here they are, in alphabetical order:

  • 🤖 ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, DIGITAL INFRASTRUCTURE & SECURITY

AI is both an opportunity and a threat: How do we best use it while minimising threats? How do we successfully transform our society digitally? How do we combat cyber terrorism? How do we prevent cyber scams?

  • ✊🏽 CIVIL LIBERTIES & HUMAN RIGHTS

How do we promote and protect human rights? How do we protect freedom of expression and stop increased censorship? How do we ensure human dignity? Should we have the death penalty? How do we end cancel culture?

  • 💰CORRUPTION/TRANSPARENCY & ACCOUNTABILITY

How do we have honest and open politicians? How do we tackle corruption and self-serving/hypocritical politicians? How do we hold politicians accountable for their promises? How do we have transparency in government? 

  • 💸 COST OF LIVING & INFLATION

Why is the cost of living so high, especially food, transport, healthcare, and housing? How do we have fair wages? How do we combat inflation, stop profiteering and price-gouging? Why is it so expensive to raise children? Why do we keep raising GST? 

  • ⚓️ CPF & WELFARE

Singaporeans are struggling: Should we have more and/or fairer distribution of welfare, and more benefits for those who need it? Should we have more benefits for mothers (eg maternity leave, subsidies, payouts)? How do we reform the CPF system to make it fairer?

  • 🇸🇬 CULTURE & IDENTITY

How do we have a cohesive Singapore, a strong social fabric/harmony, be more gracious and respectful? Why are we so focused on money? How do we build unity/kampong spirit? How do we stop this economic crisis leading to increased social tensions? 

  • 📢💬 DEMOCRACY

How do we ensure fairness and democracy? How do we actually have politicians who put the people first, who genuinely represent the people and communities, who actually listen to us and address our needs? How can we have free & fair elections and no gerrymandering? 

  • 🚸 DEMOGRAPHY & AGEING

How do we meet the challenges of an ageing society (e.g., care facilities, medical care, digital literacy, social protection)? How do we address our low birth rate? How do we increase financial, infrastructural, social support for the elderly?

  • 📊 📈 ECONOMY & JOB SECURITY

How do we keep growing our economy? How do we create more jobs for Singaporeans, ensure fairness in hiring, greater job security, end worker exploitation, encourage innovation, support local companies, develop skills, and enhance workforce competitiveness? 

  • 🎓 EDUCATION

Education is too stressful: How do we educate young people to prepare them for the challenges of the present and future, especially with rapid technological change? How do we end our overreliance on tuition? 

  • 🌏🌞 ENVIRONMENT & SUSTAINABILITY

The climate crisis: How do we increase sustainability? How do we address climate change, pollution, rising sea levels, reduce waste, incentivise recycling, and create a greener Singapore? What do we do about plastic waste and littering?

  • ♟️ GOVERNANCE & LEADERSHIP

Is the 4G up to the job? How do we have stronger opposition parties? What are the trade-offs between the economic vs. social goals of Singapore? How do we stop “No Action Talk Only” politicians? What are politicians’ visions for the future of Singapore? 

  • 🩺 HEALTHCARE

The excessive costs of healthcare, long queues, and overcrowding, especially with an ageing population: How do we improve public health? What are the challenges faced by telemedicine? Should we renationalise healthcare and make it universal and affordable? 

  • 🏘 HOUSING

The cost-of-housing crisis: Why are HDB prices ridiculously expensive/unaffordable and yet flats are still so small? How do we afford homes? Why does the government discriminate against people, e.g., singles/under 35? How do we resolve the “time bomb” of the 99-year-lease?

  • 🌏 IMMIGRATION

Why so many foreign workers and “foreign talent”? How do we cope with the influx of rich foreigners and their impact on Singapore, esp. when they drive up prices? Is Singapore too crowded? How do we create better work conditions for domestic/migrant workers?

  • 🤗 INCLUSION

How can the marginalised, e.g., the physically/mentally disabled, elderly, poor, homeless and their caregivers lead lives of equality and dignity? How do we support families who fall outside the official definition (e.g., divorced/single parents, same-sex couples)?

  • 🌍 INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Should Singaporeans speak out about global issues, especially Gaza? Should Singapore cut ties with Israel? How do we avoid importing conflicts from elsewhere, e.g., Malaysia, China, the USA? How do we work with neighbours to avoid global risks?

  • ⚖️ JUSTICE SYSTEM

How can we have greater fairness in the justice system? How can we support people with mental health issues instead of punishing them? How do we increase support for sexual assault cases, as well as decrease the stigma of reporting/speaking up on these issues?

  • 🏳️‍🌈 LGBTQIA+ EQUALITY

How do we ensure rights, inclusivity, and justice for LGBTQIA+ people and communities? 

  • 🚇 PUBLIC TRANSPORT

How do we decrease our dependence on cars? How do we make public transport more accessible and convenient? 

  • 🫶 RACIAL DISCRIMINATION

How do we encourage racial harmony and minimise racial discrimination? 

  • 🕊 SAFETY & SECURITY

How do we keep Singaporeans safe? What is national security and how should we go about protecting Singaporeans? 

  • 🪖 NATIONAL SERVICE

Do we need National Service? How do we prevent deaths of enlistees? Should we reform National Service? Why are National Servicemen so underpaid (especially since MPs are so highly paid/overpaid)?

  • 🎲 WEALTH INEQUALITY & SOCIAL MOBILITY

Singapore has become too elitist: How do we reduce income/wealth inequality and improve social mobility? Should we have more progressive welfare for the poor, more progressive taxation, and/or earlier retirement payouts?

  • 🌻 WELL-BEING

How do Singaporeans have mental well-being and avoid burnout and emotional stress? How do we be happy? Why do we have to spend all our time making money? How do we achieve a work-life balance? How can we have time to do anything apart from work?

Highlights

“Cost of living. Stop increasing the GST. It’s absurd!”

—Female, Chinese, 43, Toa Payoh

It will come as no surprise to anyone that the skyrocketing cost of living, especially in relation to housing, was the main concern of Singaporeans across the board. In particular, concerns focused on four main costs: food, transport, healthcare, and housing. Younger Singaporeans lamented their inability to afford buying a home for themselves, and worried about their future. They lamented how their lives left them with no time and resources to have children. As Singaporeans got older, their concerns became more focused on the cost of food, transport, and healthcare, the lack of welfare benefits, and the inadequacy of pensions.

Singaporeans were particularly unhappy about the raising of the Goods and Services Tax and the perceived callousness of the People’s Action Party (PAP) government in doing so. 

“I don’t think there’s a point in this. They will just give power to whoever is on their team. We have no say, and we have to deal with it.”

—Female, Malay, 31, Pasir Ris

As in 2022, the lack of jobs, and in particular jobs with fair wages, was also a consistent concern. For respondents in their early 20s, worries were centred around securing jobs after graduation and being able to afford housing and families; for older respondents, the main worry was low wages relative to the cost of living, unfair employment practices, and being unable to retire. There were also many who perceived unfairness in the hiring/enforcement of rules around foreigners in Singapore and expressed anxieties over losing their jobs to foreigners. Respondents also desired more flexible work arrangements.

“I feel that my country’s future is important and I would want to hear the future plans that the candidates would share about, and how they have come up with the different solutions to implement.”

—Female, Chinese, 21, Bedok

The issue of immigration appears to be of even greater concern than in 2019 and 2022, with Singaporeans consistently expressing frustration in particular over a) the impact of the influx of the super-rich and foreign money driving up prices for Singaporeans; and b) perceived unfairness in hiring and employment practices. Respondents were generally careful to talk about the issues caused by high immigration, not the immigrants themselves, and avoided naming specific countries.

Overall, there was also an overarching concern that Singapore was becoming extremely divided and unfair to those who did not fit in with the PAP government’s vision of society and the economy. This included those who are being left behind by the PAP’s unrelenting focus on economic growth (in particular, the poor and homeless); those who through no fault of their own are economically unproductive (e.g. the physically and mentally disabled, the elderly) and their caregivers; those who do not fit with the PAP definition of society (e.g. singles, divorced, gender and sexual minorities); and those who simply did not want to fit in with what the PAP demands of them. These concerns were expressed in many different ways, but what underlay all these concerns is a broader concern with the PAP’s economic and social vision for Singapore.

“The cost of living is too high in Singapore. They should look into providing more help not only to those lower income but in general to all Singaporeans. Benefits should be given to all Singaporean regardless of the type of house or property they live in, be it government or private.”

—Female, Chinese, 52, Bukit Batok

Younger Singaporeans brought up mental health and mental distress, linking it to the high-pressure nature of Singaporean society, exacerbated by the rising cost of living. Older Singaporeans worried about the cost and access to healthcare, and about younger Singaporeans. Singaporeans of all ages expressed exhaustion and frustration in different ways, but many people felt that the high cost of living and obsession with economic growth meant that there was no time for other pursuits or any form of work-life balance. Those who expressed frustration with a lack of time and money for having children also expressed resentment at the social and governmental pressure to have children.

“Inflation, cost of living, healthcare, a shortage of nurses and doctors, long waiting times and queues at hospitals, the ever increasing health insurance premium. I wish healthcare could be nationalised like in Taiwan or Japan where healthcare is affordable. The ageing population and how the government is going to handle it.”

—Female, Chinese, 40, Punggol

Education, in particular the stressful nature of the system and the high reliance on tuition, is a perennial concern. This time, more people who mentioned it focused on the adequacy of the education system in the face of rapid changes to technology and society.

There were fears about whether the “4th Generation” (4G) of PAP leaders were up to the job and whether they had new ideas to address these rising challenges or would just carry on business as usual. There was also frustration with the destructive and unfair political landscape. Some desired a stronger opposition representation in Parliament to bring diverse views and/or act as a checks and balances mechanism on the governing PAP. As with 2019 and 2022, the PAP itself, how the leaders behave, the lack of transparency and accountability, and the suppression of alternative voices, were all listed as problems. Unlike in the previous surveys, however, respondents specifically mentioned or hinted at corruption in the PAP government.

“Cost of living, job opportunities,  immigration policies, government corruption.”

—Male, Chinese, 57, Choa Chu Kang

Respondents expressed their desire to see more support for LGBTQIA+ individuals and for human rights in general. 

The climate crisis, especially rising temperatures and erratic weather, was a major focus. Many respondents were worried about sustainability, rising sea levels, global heating, and called for better and more equitable climate change policies that don’t adversely impact low-income communities. 

The ongoing genocide in Gaza, Singapore’s relationship with Israel, and Singapore’s role in enabling the genocide, were all mentioned. This was often coupled with a frustration that Singaporeans were silenced from speaking out, and could not act or do anything about the issue. Respondents who raised this issue often felt that Singaporeans should be given a bigger say in their own country’s international relations. 

“I think that Singapore has been too quiet on the events that have been going on in other countries. They should start voicing out about this issue. They shouldn’t make it seem like Singaporeans do not care. We are all Singaporeans, we should be able to voice out about this matter openly.”

—Female, Malay, 23, Pasir Ris

However, no one mentioned refugees or Singapore’s unwillingness to take in refugees.

Two people specifically mentioned second-hand smoking as their biggest problem.

By far the most frequent phrase: “cost of living” (see the word cloud). Frequent one word answers include: “jobs”, “money”, “salary”, “housing”, “hdb”, “economy”, “inflation”.

“I think definitely mental health issues. Many people may not understand but the health care system for mental illness is always short of people and it always takes longer to get an appointment. Also going private is super costly. Singapore has seen an increased number of cases of mental health disorder patients. That makes it more important for action to be taken immediately. It’s not just about economic issues as without health nothing can be done.”

—Female, Chinese, 42, Woodlands

Finally, as in 2019 and 2022, about 5% of responses abstained from answering, with responses including “I don’t know”, “No idea”, “no comment”. Three people indicated they had no issues to raise. One person stated they were happy with the current government. 

Issues Not (or Infrequently) Mentioned

“Talk is not what I am interested in, they should demonstrate that they are sincere in making our lives better. All promises such as Swiss standard of living are all bullshit etc. They are the only ones enjoying the high living at the expense of the citizens. Nothing can compare to the 1st generation leaders that really sweated and toiled for SG.”

—Male, Chinese, 64, Bukit Merah

Some issues that were important in 2022 that faded in prominence in this survey include:

  • COVID-19: Reeling from the ongoing pandemic, many respondents in 2022 highlighted the impact of Covid-19 on their lives, focusing on the economic and public health impact of the pandemic. Around three people mentioned COVID-19 this time, in the context of being prepared for the next pandemic.
  • Food Security: In 2022, triggered by the recent fresh chicken shortage in the country, Singaporeans were concerned with food security but only one person mentioned it this time (as both food and water security).
  • Political Stability: Singaporeans in 2022 were worried about the upcoming transition from Lee Hsien Loong to his successor, especially as Heng Swee Keat stepped aside as Lee’s successor in April 2021. With the transition concluded, attention focused on the capability of the new leaders (see above) and what their plans for the future would be.

“Cut down bus fare as it’s not worth it to pay $1.09 for just one station!”

—Male, Malay, 44, Bedok

  • Infrastructure and Public Spaces: This issue was also raised in 202 but this time no one mentioned the expansion of the road network or development of public spaces. Of Singapore’s infrastructure, a few mentioned public transport (see above) but almost everyone who mentioned public transport focused on cost rather than increased development. Perhaps due to rising awareness that development comes at a cost to the environment, development of infrastructure has slipped off the agenda. No one mentioned land reclamation or the “Long Island”, for example, except in the context of its damaging impact on climate change.
  • National Security:  In 2019, only one person mentioned security, but in 2022, in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, six people mentioned national security and most specifically cited the Ukraine war. This time, it was only mentioned twice. More people talked about the genocide in Gaza and how Singaporeans should be given a bigger say in their own country’s international relations. However, as noted above, no one mentioned refugees.
  • Crime: In 2019, no one mentioned crime, except again in the context of the unfairness/inhumanity of drug penalties, but in 2022, five people mentioned rising crime rates. This time, only two people mentioned crime and one of them was in the context of rising immigration.

As ever, respondents ignored many issues identified by the current PAP government as urgent:

  • Foreign Interference: As with 2022, no one identified foreign interference, as defined by how the PAP has campaigned about it, as a problem. In other words, no one was worried about hostile information campaigns run by foreign governments, about Singaporeans acting as local proxies for foreign principals seeking to disrupt Singapore, or in general about hostile foreign governments and foreign funding. No one mentioned the use of the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act or the designation of Philip Chan as a Politically Significant Person under the Act in February. On the contrary, the main fear around foreigners was in the ways in which the PAP government openly facilitates and encourages foreign interference: foreign PMET workers being privileged over Singaporeans; companies exploiting low-wage migrant labour; foreign money (e.g. buying property) raising the cost of living for Singaporeans. One person (Male, Indian, Muslim, 34, Kallang) worried about Malaysian TV shows broadcast on Suria depicting Islam in ways which he thought will increase racial/religious tensions in SG. This suggests that the priorities of the government are very different from most citizens.
  • Fake News: Again, no one mentioned deliberate online falsehoods (“fake news”) and disinformation campaigns as a problem. This is undoubtedly a genuine issue, but the lack of mention of this suggests that either people know about it but regard it as less important relative to other issues, or that people do not know about it, in which case they are ignoring the PAP government’s strident warnings about it.
  • Racial and Religious Antagonism and Strife: As before, race and religion were discussed in terms of reducing discrimination, increasing cohesion and mutual understanding, and facilitating honest and respectful exchanges. There were, however, fears that the increasing cost of living crisis in Singapore would lead to increased social tensions, including race and religion.

“How to stay relevant, yet humble, and relatable to their constituents, as many are viewing those elected previously as high brow and unreachable. They have lost touch with those that voted them in. Stay aloft and we will see a rather different Singapore in the next election. Then, for sure, LKY will get up and haunt them.”

Female, Chinese, 89, Bedok

Join the Conversation

Home Forums The 25 Most Important Issues Facing Singapore in 2024

  • Wailiang Tham

    Administrator
    2 July 2024 at 9:45 am

    Was there anything that resonated with you in particular during the first stage of the analysis? Or is there anything which you feel is missing which should be highlighted?

    • Ping Tjin Thum

      Administrator
      18 July 2024 at 2:51 pm

      Honestly, the sheer desperation and frustration in people’s responses about the cost of living. People are really struggling out there and they are really desperate but they feel totally helpless in Singapore, given the lack of alternatives to exploitative wage labour and government handouts. I think people feel humiliated from being in this situation because the government insists it’s all about personal responsibility and goes on and on about how Singapore is wealthy, prosperous, the richest city in the world, etc.

  • Yi Peng Yap

    Administrator
    2 July 2024 at 11:08 am

    As a Malaysian, I’m curious: Are Singaporeans not concerned about surveillance and privacy? The number of CCTVs in public spaces has always made me uncomfortable.

    • Ping Tjin Thum

      Administrator
      18 July 2024 at 2:53 pm

      Singaporeans have generally high trust in government due to its track record, and because the government genuinely does try to use that data to benefit Singapore/Singaporeans. The problem is that it also uses the information for political reasons and to oppress and silence critics. So ultimately, even if Singaporeans are uncomfortable with it, what can they do? What can they say? There’s a lot of fear of the consequences of speaking out.

  • Rohin

    Administrator
    18 July 2024 at 3:19 pm

    Very interesting to see that cost of living is also an issue for Singaporeans. From the way Singaporeans I’ve talked to have spoken, it always seems that the grass is greener on the other side and us Malaysians are the ones struggling. Guess it’s nice to see we’re not really that different after all

    • Ping Tjin Thum

      Administrator
      18 July 2024 at 3:46 pm

      I think the cost of living crisis is a global phenomenon, thanks to the climate crisis, war, and pandemic. But I was also shocked by the prices in KL when we had our workshop last week. KL is not that much cheaper than Singapore!

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Footnote

 *Quotes have been lightly edited for grammar.

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