SINGAPORE: Eric Chua, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development, pointed out that the Minimum Income Standards (MIS) Report 2023 goes beyond addressing the fundamental needs covered by government aid schemes.
“Because they are going beyond what is basic needs, they’re imagining something that’s aspirational, something that is perhaps more than basic.”
“What we cater for in ComCare, in our subsidies and in our financial assistance schemes, caters for basic needs and we do need to look at the entirety of what is given or what is provided to the families.”
On Wednesday (4 Oct), Singaporean Members of Parliament engaged in a robust discussion regarding the definition of essential requirements. This deliberation was prompted by a recent study on minimum income sufficiency.
In response to the MIS Report 2023, conducted by NTU and LKYSPP, the Government in a joint statement on 14 September emphasized that the study suggesting minimum household income requirements amid inflation “might not accurately reflect basic needs”. Instead, the findings should be seen as “what individuals would like to have.”
The government’s statement added that it goes beyond addressing fundamental necessities such as housing, food, and clothing.
MP urges Singapore government to conduct comprehensive living wage study
Mr Ang Wei Neng, the PAP MP representing West Coast GRC, inquired whether, based on the insights from the Minimum Income Standard Report 2023, the Ministry for Social and Family Development would consider adjusting the financial assistance rendered to low-income families.
He also asked if the government would conduct its own study to determine the level of living wage required to support a basic standard of living using various Government data beyond what is publicly available.
In response, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development, Eric Chua, stated that the MSF regularly evaluates the coverage and payout amounts of ComCare schemes.
This ensures sufficient support for lower-income families in meeting their essential living needs, with the latest increase in assistance quantum implemented for ComCare Short-to-Medium Term Assistance and Long-Term Assistance in August 2022.
“During these reviews, MSF references data and information from different sources. ”
“These include price data from the Department of Statistics, views from domain experts and community stakeholders, as well as academic studies and research commissioned by MSF, “he added.
Mr Ang then pointed out that the MIS report specifies a minimum income standard budget of S$6,693 per month for a household with two children, which translates to about S$1,600 per capita. This income level is stated to be equivalent to the 30th percentile of all working households in Singapore.
He questioned whether the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) believes that setting the criteria at S$800 per capita income for financial assistance systems is either too high or too low.
Mr Ang highlighted the “big discrepancy” between the MIS report’s recommendation, proposing a monthly income of approximately $1,680 per capita to meet basic needs, and the Government’s response, which set the national average monthly expenditure at $1,650 per capita.
“If MSF disagrees with this report, which is internationally conducted in many countries, why would not MSF consider doing its own report, using the data available to MSF to refute this or to convince the Singaporeans better?” Mr Ang asked.
In response, Mr Chua raised concerns about the report’s methodology.
He pointed out that many of the 300 participants in the small group discussions were not from low-income households, making it difficult for minority voices to be heard due to group dynamics.
Mr Chua also highlighted the incorrect assumption in the study that low-income households receive the same amount of financial help as median-income households.
He added that the study assumes that low-income households get the same amount of financial help as median-income households, which is incorrect.
Mr Chua emphasized that the MIS study delves beyond the basic needs covered by government aid schemes.
It examines “what it takes to enable a sense of belonging, respect, security, independence”, which represents aspirational goals individuals or families might desire.
Associate Professor Jamus Lim, Workers’ Party MP for Sengkang GRC, made the case that items like perfume could be considered as basic needs, especially in Singapore’s hot climate.
“Perfume may seem like a bit of an aspirational good, but many Singaporeans will understand as well that in a hot and human climate like our own, being presentable and smelling normal would be something that many job seekers would require in order to have some dignity when they go for a job interview, or when they go to work.”
He also referred to Mr Chua’s statement in Parliament on Tuesday, where it was mentioned that ComCare has expanded its definition of basic needs to include items like mobile data plans.
Mr Chua defended this expansion by explaining that mobile data plans provide digital connectivity and human connection, both of which are considered basic needs.
He recounted conversations with two lower-income single mothers who expressed that items like perfume, jewellery, and overseas holidays were considered “good to have,” with the hope of affording them through hard work.
Mr. Chua stressed the agency, strength, and dignity of low-income families, highlighting their ability to break the cycle of poverty.
“Let us not underestimate the agency, the strength and the dignity of our low-income families and their ability to turn things around and to break the cycle of poverty,” he said.
Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) inquired whether MSF would consider providing a higher payout to full-time caregivers who are unable to work.
Mr Chua explained that MSF officers assess each family and individual’s comprehensive situation before determining the necessary assistance.
Minimum Income Standard study reveals families need S$6,693 monthly to meet basic needs
MIS report 2023 unveils figures detailing the necessary income households require to maintain a basic standard of living, using the Minimum Income Standard (MIS) method.
The study also warned that although measures like the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) and Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) have had a positive impact, as noted by the study, they haven’t completely addressed the disparity.
The report detailed that:
- The “reasonable starting point” for a living wage in Singapore was S$2,906 a month.
- A single parent with a child aged two to six required S$3,218 per month.
- Partnered parents with two children, one aged between seven and 12 and the other between 13 and 18, required S$6,426 a month.
- A single elderly individual required S$1,421 a month.
- Budgets for both single and partnered parent households averaged around S$1,600 per member. Given recent price inflation, these figures have risen by up to 5% in the current report.
Singapore Govt challenges MIS 2023 report’s representation of basic needs
Regrettably, on 14 September, the Finance Ministry (MOF), Manpower Ministry (MOM), and Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) jointly issued a statement dismissing the idea suggested by the report, claiming that minimum household income requirements amid inflation “might not accurately reflect basic needs”.
Instead, they claimed that findings should be seen as “what individuals would like to have.”
The Singapore government further defended their stances for the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) and other measures to uplift lower-wage workers, arguing that “a universal wage floor is not necessarily the best way” to ensure decent wages for lower-wage workers.
“Set too low, the wage floor will benefit fewer workers than the Progressive Wage Model (PWM). Set too high, workers who are less-skilled risk losing their jobs, especially if their jobs can be automated.”
The joint statement mentioned that tripartite partners have recently expanded the PWM to more sectors like retail, food services and waste management, as well as occupations like administrators and drivers.
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