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.‘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)
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.
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.‘Helping the elderly thrive is good for Singapore as a community‘ by Kanwaljit Soin (The Straits Times, 4 June 2019)
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.
There were also several reports on the weekend:
- ‘$1,379 a month for retirement in Singapore: Too much or too little?‘ by Yuen Sin (The Straits Times, 2 June 2019)
- ‘Worries over retirement income‘ by Tan Ee Lyn (The Straits Times, 2 June 2019)
We’re very glad that Channel 8 hosted this in-depth segment discussing our report! Notably, it includes some vox pops segments with older people expressing their views on the sufficiency of the $1,379 sum. Note: video is in Mandarin only.
We are very pleased to announce the public launch of our report, “What older people need in Singapore: A household budgets study“, and the accompanying video!
For more details, please see:
- Full report
- Executive summary
- Detailed lists of good and services included in the budgets
- Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Below is our press statement, released on 22 May 2019:
Older people need $1,379 a month for basic needs, according to study
How much money does an older person need to meet their basic needs? According to a team of researchers in Singapore, in 2018, the figure for a single person aged 65 or above, living alone, was $1,379 a month.
The team of researchers, led by Assistant Professor Ng Kok Hoe (LKYSPP), conducted focus group discussions involving over 100 participants from a diverse range of backgrounds. Using a consensus-based methodology known as Minimum Income Standards (MIS), the groups came to agreement on how ordinary Singaporeans think about basic needs, and determined the household budgets necessary for older people to meet those needs.
Participants generated lists of items and services related to housing and utilities; things needed in a two-room HDB flat; personal care items and clothing; food; transport; leisure and cultural activities; and healthcare. Each item or service was only included if participants came to a consensus that it was a basic need, and could explain their reasons for its inclusion.
“This study reveals that ordinary members of society can come to consensus about a basic standard of living in light of norms and experiences in contemporary Singapore,” said Dr Ng. “Such income standards can help by translating societal values and real experiences into unambiguous and substantive benchmarks that policy can aim for.”
Key findings in the report include:
- Participants agreed that basic needs go beyond subsistence. They emphasised values such as quality of life, independence, autonomy and social connections
- Based on the lists of items and services, the household budgets necessary to meet basic needs were:
- $1,379 per month for single elderly households
- $2,351 per month for coupled elderly households
- $1,721 per month for single persons aged 55-64
Said Associate Professor Teo You Yenn (NTU), another member of the research team and author of the best-selling “This Is What Inequality Looks Like”: “To tackle inequality, it is critical to establish an agreed floor below which no one should fall. The MIS method can be usefully applied to generate societal consensus across a range of household types.”
MIS research was first developed by researchers at Loughborough University’s Centre for Research in Social Policy in the UK. It has since been used in the UK, Japan, South Africa, Mexico, France and Ireland.
The research team will hold a public lecture on 22 May (Friday) for the public release of the research findings. The event will include a screening of an animated video about the research, a presentation by Dr Ng, and a question and answer session with the research team, moderated by Associate Professor Kenneth Paul Tan (LKYSPP).