While the government will help alleviate the cost of living, Singaporeans must also do their part in making smart lifestyle and consumer choices, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (19 August).
Speaking at the annual National Day Rally, which was held at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), Lee noted that developments in the last 20 years have resulted in long-lasting lifestyle changes. This is one key reason that Singaporeans are feeling cost of living pressures.
During the Mandarin portion of his speech, PM Lee zeroed in on three examples: smartphones, infant milk formula and hawker centres.
The 66-year-old noted that in the 1990s, most Singaporean families had only one landline. The average phone bill was about $8 a month, or $100 a year. Today, with landlines no longer ubiquitous, “handphones have become a necessity in our daily lives”, said Lee.
“This is the way forward to become a Smart Nation. We should not regress. However, this also means telecommunications bills with grow.”
He cited the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC), which found that some low income families paid more than $300 a month in smartphone bills, which is more than 10 per cent of their household incomes. Yet, other low income families only paid about $100.
“I am glad that CDAC has been giving households financial advice and suggesting ways to bring down their telecommunications bills. For example, don’t use 4G to watch movies when you are outside,” said Lee to laughter.
Infant milk formula
The Prime Minister acknowledged that while mothers often need to supplement breast milk with infant formula, the latter is more expensive in Singapore than some other countries.
“Infant formula makers have taken advantage of this to develop all sorts of premium brands. They have also marketed aggressively, misleading parents into thinking that if it is more expensive, it must be better,” noted Lee.
A government task force has tackled this problem by simplifying import processes, as well as bringing in more brands and parallel imports. Public hospitals – and some private ones – now offer more affordable brands as well.
The government will also tighten regulations for the labelling of infant formula and put a stop to “misleading advertising”, while working to educate parents that more expensive infant formula is not necessarily better, said Lee.
He quipped, “In the past, there were many advertisements showing babies or cute animals with mortar boards, as if drinking that particular brand will make the children smarter. I am glad that there are fewer such advertisements now.”
He added, “Through our efforts, there are now more reasonably priced options for consumers to choose from.”
One way to help Singaporeans manage the cost of eating out is to build more hawker centres, given that many dual-income families eat out as they have no time to cook. In this regard, seven new centres have been built in the last few years, with 13 more are on the way.
Stalls in the new hawker centres are also required to provide affordable food choices: almost every stall will offer at least one economical meal option, priced at $3 or less. Furthermore, they are halal-certified, so Singaporeans of all races and faiths can enjoy these meals, noted Lee.
Calling hawker centres our “community dining rooms”, Lee said, “Hawker centres are important not just to keep the cost of living low. They are a cultural institution, a unique part of Singapore’s heritage and identity.”