Singapore ’s Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday said the government would address citizens’ growing concerns about social mobility and workplace discrimination as part of efforts to “refresh” the city state’s social compact. In his first major policy speech since the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) signalled in April that he will succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong , Wong stressed that legislation on these issues needed to go hand in hand with attitudinal shifts – including valuing workers “in every profession or field”. “This means respecting all, including those in lower-income jobs who keep society going in so many ways,” Wong said. “Many of these unassuming workers are essential, as we learnt during the pandemic – our hawkers, cleaning workers, food delivery riders, security officers, and so many more.” “Let us recognise them, treat them with dignity and respect, treat them kindly, never turn up our noses up at anyone – and pay them well,” he said, in a speech addressing members of the National Trades Union Congress, which is linked to the PAP. Wong in May had said the PAP’s so-called fourth-generation (4G) group of ministers were planning a nationwide public engagement exercise to garner ideas to “refresh” the country’s social compact. Wong, 49, outlined that plan weeks after the PAP endorsed him as the leader of the 4G group, a move that all but sealed his status as the successor to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong following a protracted internal selection process. Singapore’s PM-in-waiting: Who is Lawrence Wong? In his remarks on Tuesday, Wong said an updated social compact was required to avoid the circumstances of “fractured societies” elsewhere in the world. He referenced sentiment in Europe and North America, where “many people with difficulties coping have felt excluded from their nation’s progress and they sense that the system has failed the people”. This, Wong said, had fuelled the growth of extremist political parties and caused societies “to turn inward and xenophobic”. ‘Real fears’ Nonetheless, he acknowledged that there were concerns that social mobility was slowing, “with those who have done well pulling further ahead of the rest due to their entrenched advantages” and the possibility of “being displaced by others”. “These are very real fears in our stressful society – the fear of not doing well enough, of being left behind,” he said. Wong outlined previously announced plans, including a new law to uphold fair employment practices and plans to “strengthen our progressive system of taxes and transfers”. For the younger generation, he noted that students felt pigeonholed in a system where the stakes are high from very early in their lives. “Our graduates and workers are anxious about their careers and worry that they will be priced out of the property market,” said Wong. Singapore’s culture of meritocracy - seen as underpinning its successes - had its downsides, Wong said, adding that he believed the current system could be improved to “make ours a more open and compassionate meritocracy”. “I hope to see a society and system that benefits many, not a few; that rewards a wide variety of talents, not a conventional or narrow few; that values and celebrates all individuals for who they are and what they can achieve; and provides all with opportunities to do better throughout their lives,” he said. His speech was part of a launch event for “Forward Singapore”, a government public consultation exercise that will see the 4G leaders engage citizens on six key areas: economy and jobs, education and lifelong learning, health and social support, home and living environment, environmental and fiscal sustainability, and the Singapore identity. Singapore’s PAP to campaign on bread-and-butter issues: PM Lee The PAP, in power without interruption since 1959, has held several such major national consultation exercises in the past, especially during periods of political transition. In 2002, two years before Prime Minister Lee took office, his predecessor Goh Chok Tong formed a Remaking Singapore committee aimed at recommending a new order that would steer citizens away from solely focusing on material goals. In 2012, following a general election the preceding year where the PAP saw a slide in its performance due to immigration concerns, Lee’s administration launched the Our Singapore Conversation. That initiative was helmed by Heng Swee Keat, 61, who last year stunned the country by announcing his plan to step aside as the designated heir apparent to Lee. Heng, who remains a deputy prime minister, said he made the decision in order to give way to a younger leader who would have a longer runway to lead the country in the post-Covid-19 pandemic era.