Frequently asked questions (FAQs) (2019 study)

Are you confident that if you did this research again you would get similar results?

Researchers in other contexts have found stability in the list even as it is revised, showing that the process is reliable. We are very confident the numbers would be similar if the study was replicated. We’ve already confirmed it across multiple rounds and there was no contention on the vast majority of items.

How do you keep participants with particularly high or low incomes, who will have skewed expectations, from affecting the results?

How people see needs are of course affected by personal experiences, but people can apply themselves to the conceptual question of a minimum regardless of their own income situations.

The MIS methodology emphasises having a mixed group in terms of class composition, who must come to consensus, precisely to ensure that we don’t end up with very high or very low standards. The budget is meant to reflect a baseline for everyone.

Facilitation technique is crucial, in particular the use of a hypothetical third person, Mr or Mdm M. Participants are reminded that they are a budget committee for Mr/Mdm M, and that it isn’t just about their personal tastes or preferences.

Are there differences between the income required to meet needs depending on the specific religious or cultural context of the individual?

Participants were very sensitive to the fact that Singapore is a multicultural, religiously diverse society. Participants valued choice in cultural and religious activities: there were discussions of different wedding formats, food and diet (e.g. halal food might be more expensive), and clothing needs. The budgets would allow different groups with different practices to meet basic standards of living regardless of cultural variations.

How did the participants feel about the process?

They generally enjoyed it! They were some of the most cheerful and conscientious participants we’ve seen in research projects. They seemed to relish the opportunity for their views to be heard and respected. Participants saw their collective wisdom translate into research findings. At the end of the sessions, they asked whether they could read our report after we completed the study. They often stayed back to chat after we finished; a few wrote to us to share further thoughts.

Can the findings be adjusted for chronic illnesses and disability, which are common in old age?

We assumed good health because we wanted to find out the ‘base case’ without particular health conditions. If there are further needs, the budget can only increase, not decrease. UK research has looked at needs of people with specific conditions, such as visual impairment. There should be further focus groups run for other cases, not just addition from expert input–this is research that perhaps can be extended here as well in the long run.

Nevertheless, although we assumed good health, even healthy people fall sick, so there was a budget for GP/dentist visits, screening, vaccinations, one-off procedures.

What are the implications of the research – how do you plan to finance the concept of a basic standard of living?

Once we’ve established what the budgets look like, then we can look at the question of how to meet them. Those answers don’t come from this study, but they are conversations that need to be had regarding the roles of the state, companies, and community.

Incomes for older people may come from market sources (e.g. employment, private pensions, savings), public sources (e.g. public pensions, transfers, subsidies), and informal sources (e.g. family contributions and support from charities). Currently, in Singapore, there is a heavy reliance on family support. The major public transfer schemes are means-tested and modest. There is also a problem of low wages among some older workers. As family support declines with population ageing, income security can be strengthened by ensuring sufficient state support and adequate wages, whether through minimum wage or other interventions.

Has this sort of research been used in policy elsewhere?

In Japan, budgets produced through this method provide a reference in reviews of social assistance and child benefits. In the UK, various nonprofits have adopted the budgets as benchmarks when determining the eligibility requirements or generosity of their benefit schemes, or when setting the fees for their services. The Living Wage Foundation has also used it to recommend wage levels for companies which pledge to be living wage employers.

What’s next?

We are planning further research on households with children at different ages, and single parent as well as two-parent households. This will allow us to see needs at different stages in the life course.