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Adam Smith Inst - UK should become ‘Singapore-on-Thames’

Boost growth and public services by learning from Singapore’s success, says think-tank

  • Singapore spends £3,500 less per person on social spending compared to UK — and yet outperforms the UK in health and education outcomes
  • Singapore ranked number 1 in healthcare efficiency, UK ranked 41st
  • Since the introduction of Singapore’s ‘Workfare’ scheme, the poorest 20% of households have experienced real income growth of around 40%

A new report from the Adam Smith Institute (ASI) argues that the UK should become more like Singapore to boost economic growth and the quality of public services.

Singapore has achieved impressive growth and rising productivity over recent years, unlike the UK and many other developed economies. This is no small part thanks to Singapore maintaining relatively low taxes and government spending. 

The new report, Singapore-on-Thames: What the UK Can Learn From the Lion City, explains how Singapore spends less on public services without sacrificing quality. Singapore spends less per person on welfare, education and healthcare systems while achieving substantially better results by international comparative measures.

Report author and Singaporean citizen Dr Bryan Cheang explains how Singapore’s public services utilises market principles and emphasises individual responsibility, whilst maintaining equitable access.

The central innovative feature of Singapore’s social security system are Central Provident Fund (CPF) accounts. This is a system of compulsory individual savings that can be used on healthcare, housing and retirement. The CPF ensures that citizens directly bear some of the cost of public services. 

Singapore’s “workfare” system encourages people to get back into work after losing a job by equipping them with necessary skills, thereby encouraging self-reliance and responsibility. Singapore’s Government also distributes substantial social security support through civil society groups, rather than central dictat, allowing for more local interventions and identification of those most in need.

Singapore rejected the British colonial legacy of the NHS-style healthcare model after independence in 1965. Singapore’s post-independence leaders not only heavily criticised the NHS model but also replaced it with a system based on market competition and choice. Singaporeans pay for healthcare costs out of their Central Provident Fund savings, providing competition and greater choice. There are also additional state top-ups for those in need.

Meanwhile, Singapore’s education system gives schools and teachers autonomy. It is largely decentralised and has a flourishing private sector which promotes competition and efficiency.

The paper concludes that the UK could improve the quality of public services, such as welfare, healthcare and education, by adopting a more market-centric, decentralised and personal responsibility model exemplified by Singapore:

  • (1) Reduce state-spending and taxation to similar levels of Singapore, abolishing tariffs and quotas along with other restrictions on trade; 
  • (2) Incentivise greater personal saving or insurance for unemployment, education, retirement, healthcare, and social care; by developing a UK-equivalent of Central Provident Fund (CPF) accounts.
  • (3) Decentralise the curriculum and encourage further academisation.
  • (4) Incorporate market incentives into the delivery of welfare, health and education.

Bryan Cheang, report author and Assistant Director of the Centre for the Study of Governance & Society at King's College London, said:

“The UK is saddled by high taxes and bloated welfare bureaucracy. This strain only worsens with the pressures of Covid and the burdens on the healthcare system. Singapore presents a good lesson in fiscal responsibility and individual self-reliance, one that the UK and European countries sorely need to learn from.”

Matthew Lesh, Head of Research at the Adam Smith Institute said:

“Britain's policy debates are increasingly narrow, devoid of any interest in fundamental reforms to the size and scope of the state or the way public services are delivered. Singapore not only shows a different way is possible, but also, immensely successful. The Lion Nation has rapidly developed as an open, low-taxing, low-spending state. Services are less expensive and higher quality by using market-mechanisms. ”

Notes to editors:  

For further comments or to arrange an interview, contact John Macdonald, john@adamsmith.org | 0758 477 8207.

Bryan Cheang is the Assistant Director of the Centre for the Study of Governance & Society. He received his PhD and MA in Political Economy from King’s College London and is a graduate of the National University of Singapore.

The report ‘Singapore-on-Thames: What the UK Can Learn From the Lion City’ is available here .

The Adam Smith Institute is a free market, neoliberal think tank based in London. It advocates classically liberal public policies to create a richer, freer world.

Original article link: https://www.adamsmith.org/news/uk-should-become-singapore-on-thames

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