Impact of coronavirus on families

A report in The Straits Times today looks at the impact of the coronavirus crisis on low-income families in Singapore:

Adam’s situation is not unique. Many of some 300,000 Singapore residents who earn below $2,000 have seen sudden dips in their income during the pandemic, especially after new measures on April 7 restricted businesses deemed non-essential, among other things.

Beyond Social Services helped 84 families financially in the whole of last month. But just five days into the circuit breaker, it received 123 applications for such help.

The charity contacted 300 families it is helping, and three in four said they needed more financial aid.

[…]

Dr Ng Kok Hoe, senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said the “stark policy lesson” is that cracks that are present in normal times will only widen during a crisis. “Problems with food security among poor households, educational inequality, overcrowded housing in the public rental scheme, inadequate social security outside the wage economy… these are the challenges we must tackle with more resolve when the crisis lifts.”

Coronavirus: Families scraping by in tougher spot now

(Note: the article is not paywalled; it can be read without paying for a prescription. But it is necessary to register with the website and sign in with your email address to read it.)

Budget standards and cultural diversity

We have a new opinion piece (paywall) in The Straits Times today, by research team members Neo Yu Wei and Ad Maulod, examining how the definition of a basic standard in living developed by participants in our research reflected Singaporeans’ values relating to cultural diversity–and how they translated this practically and concretely into the household budgets that emerged:

Researchers in other countries have conducted similar research on minimum household budget standards, such as in the United Kingdom, Japan, Mexico, South Africa. However, only in Singapore did participants include the choice and freedom to engage in “one’s cultural and religious practices” as a key basic need. This underlies the importance participants place on being a member of their cultural community.

In discussing how to translate this definition into everyday practice, participants who come from diverse ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds, took time to hear different views expressed, acknowledge the importance of different practices, before finding ways to agree on common and shared needs for every older person in Singapore.

A budget standard for everyone in a diverse society‘ by Neo Yu Wei and Ad Maulod (The Straits Times, 28 June 2019)

Our latest opinion piece in TODAY

TODAYonline has just published an opinion piece by Teo You Yenn and Ng Kok Hoe of our research team, exploring what it means to set a baseline for meeting needs:

A key aim in the MIS approach is to translate needs which may initially appear abstract — needs for independence or connection, for example — into concrete things which can be clearly and explicitly budgeted for.

The oft-repeated cliché that “money cannot buy happiness” may well be true in its most literal and simplistic conception, but our participants’ deliberations demonstrated that there are many concrete and material things — which require specific sums of money — that are needed to meet people’s needs.

While these material things cannot guarantee anything as subjective as “happiness”, they are deeply connected to well-being and important preconditions to happiness.

S$1,379 a month needed for basic needs? This is how Singapore’s seniors agree on this baseline‘ by Teo You Yenn and Ng Kok Hoe (TODAYonline, 4 June 2019)

MIS in the news! (4)

Media discussion of our MIS report findings is continuing! In today’s Straits Times, Dr Kanwaljit Soin writes:

We also know that current older workers are paid low wages, with two-thirds employed as cleaners, labourers and related workers, and categorised in the three lowest-paying occupational categories. They are paid less than the sum required for a basic standard of living, if we take $1,379 as the benchmark.

Needy Singapore citizens and permanent residents who are unable to work due to old age, illness, disability or unfavourable family circumstances, have been recipients of what is known as the Public Assistance Scheme and now called the ComCare Long-Term Assistance scheme.

The sum given per month for many years was about $500 and below, and finally increased to $600 per person this year, with two-person households getting $1,000.
Looking at CPF and retirement schemes shows there are real shortfalls in achieving the MIS through these routes.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo revealed in Parliament in February that nearly three-quarters of those getting monthly payouts from the CPF Life Scheme or Retirement Sum Scheme receive less than $500 a month, while average monthly payouts for those between 70 and 79 was just $290.

Only 268,000 people were receiving these payments. The number of people over 65 is more than half a million, and so the remainder was left out of these two schemes.

Helping the elderly thrive is good for Singapore as a community‘ by Kanwaljit Soin (The Straits Times, 4 June 2019)

There were also several reports on the weekend:

MIS in the news (3)

We’re very pleased to see that the discussion on how to meet the needs of older people is continuing — and deepening!

“It doesn’t mean that once I reach 60 years old, I become a different person; I stay at home and eat porridge and face the four walls.”

How much is enough? Social workers and financial experts weigh in on meeting seniors’ basic needs‘ by Janice Lim (TODAYonline, 26 May 2019)

Throughout his presentation, Dr Ng repeatedly emphasised how participants were plagued by a pervading sense of anxiety. Many of them were extremely conscious of how old age is usually accompanied by declining health and consequently higher costs of healthcare. The sentiment of not wanting to feel like “a burden” to their families was a common thread as well.

Basic Living Needs for the Elderly Include Smartphones and An Annual Holiday. So What?‘ by Ethel Pang (Rice Media, 26 May 2019)

Further links:

MIS in the news! (2)

We’re really pleased to see lots of coverage and discussion of our report. In addition to the below articles, Ng Kok Hoe was on 95.8FM yesterday evening (flexing his Mandarin skills!) to discuss the findings and their implications.

Have we missed out any articles? Comment and let us know!

How to achieve a basic standard of living for older people in Singapore

Hot on the heels of our report launch, here is an op-ed by research team members Ng Kok Hoe and Teo You Yenn, published in The Edge:

In Singapore, many older people rely on contributions from their adult children. As an act of reciprocity and respect, support for elderly parents may be socially desirable. But in an ageing population, future elderly people will have fewer or no children, and it is unsustainable to depend on them as the main source of income.

With longer life expectancies, it is reasonable to expect longer years of work. Yet current older workers receive low wages. Many work primarily out of need and two thirds are employed in the three lowest-paying occupational categories. In 2017, “cleaners, labourers and related workers” received a median monthly work income of $1,200, less than the $1,379 required for a basic standard of living.

Read the full article here!

MIS in the news!

Thank you to everyone who came yesterday for our packed launch event! If you missed it, you can catch up on the Tweets in the threads listed here:

Here is a round up of news reports on the study that we’ve found. If we’ve missed any, do comment and let us know!

Do also check out the second explainer video from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy!