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Key findings (2023)

How much income households need for a basic standard of living is an important question for society and a major field of study in social research. We published the first study on the cost of a basic standard of living in Singapore using the Minimum Income Standard (MIS) method in 2019, focusing on elderly persons aged 65 years and older, and single adults aged 55–64 years old. A follow-up study on working-age households was completed in 2021. This report presents the latest MIS budgets after adjusting for inflation between 2020 and 2022—also known as uprating.

The increases in MIS budgets take place against a backdrop of recent high inflation: 8.6% between 2020 and 2022 as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The monthly MIS budgets for three indicative household types increased by 4%–5% during the same period, to:  

This page provides a brief introduction to some key findings. For more detail, please see:

How were the budgets uprated?

Since the household budgets were first established, they have been periodically uprated to capture the impact of price inflation. The key principles guiding the uprating process are:  

Are the increases in the MIS budgets comparable to inflation levels?

The MIS budgets have not changed at the same rate as the CPI because the two measures are based on different baskets of items and our uprating process draws not just from CPI data but also specific item prices. Still, across most item categories, the MIS budgets closely followed changes in the CPI. The most significant divergences were for transport; housing and utilities; and educational services.  

Have wage changes helped households to achieve a basic standard of living?

Compared to the distribution of actual work income per household member in Singapore, the MIS budgets are close to the average of the third decile group (i.e. 21st to 30th percentile), meaning that around 30% of all working households earn less than the amount required to meet their basic needs.

Wage inequality in Singapore is stark, whether it is across occupations, types of work or educational levels. Between 2020 and 2022, income gains helped to narrow the distance with MIS budgets for some groups of workers. But these gains were insufficient to alter the overall picture of wage distribution and adequacy.

Have public schemes helped households to achieve a basic standard of living?

Between 2020 and 2022, the income limits and amounts of support under the major transfers and subsidies for children’s care and education remained unchanged as the MIS budgets increased. As a result, households would have found it harder to qualify for support and the amounts of assistance would have been worth less in real terms. Support generally tapers off as children grow up. For instance, infant care subsidies are equivalent to 2%–35% of the working-age households’ MIS budgets, while student care subsidies cover just 1%–7%.

Under the Central Provident Fund (CPF), small increments to the Basic Retirement Sum (BRS) and Full Retirement Sum (FRS) did not make a significant difference to the adequacy of retirement income. Payments based on the BRS cover around 55% of the single elderly household’s MIS budget, while FRS payments are roughly equivalent to basic needs. The BRS and FRS are targets—not actual savings. In practice, only 65% of active CPF members who turned 55 years old in 2021 achieved these amounts.

For older people on low incomes, the inadequacy of ComCare Long-Term Assistance remains striking. It pays 43% of what a single elderly person requires for basic needs and is given to just 0.6% of the elderly population—down from 0.9% in 2020. The Silver Support Scheme, unchanged between 2020 and 2022, reaches more recipients but provides just 10%–20% of the MIS budget.

The GST Voucher – Cash which targets lower-income households is equivalent to just 1% of the MIS budgets for working-age households and 2% for the single elderly person. Actual payment amounts are not regularly disclosed for ComCare Short-To-Medium Term Assistance. The median amount of assistance last reported in 2021 is equivalent to 7%–15% of the working-age households’ MIS budgets.

In the 2023 national budget, the government announced a slew of one-off measures to absorb some of the impact of inflation and the GST rate hike. While there was a wide variety of schemes covering almost all Singaporean adults and households, the total amounts provided over the course of the year add up to a maximum of below 5% of what the single parent household needs, and less than 4% for the partnered parent household. Clearly, they will not significantly alter the outlook for income security.

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