Singaporeans’ big Budget Day hope: Reduce cost of living

Help to cope with the rising cost of living was the biggest wish among Singaporeans that Yahoo! Singapore interviewed in the lead-up to Monday’s budget speech by finance minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

That hope was similarly reflected in the results of a feedback exercise by REACH in the past three months in which Singaporeans expressed the most concern over employment, transport and housing.

High inflation has led to growing public discontent
over government policies, particularly on immigration as many citizens blame the influx of immigrants in recent years for strains on infrastructure, stagnation of wages and the increasing cost of living. Last year, Singapore’s consumer price index rose 4.6 per cent from a year earlier, fuelled by increases in housing and transport prices.

According to REACH, many Singaporeans hoped more would be done to ensure citizens remain employed with good jobs and wages that kept pace with inflation and rising living costs. Some also called for the nationalisation of the public transport system, and the revision of the Certificate of Entitlement and Electronic Road Pricing schemes.

On housing, contributors to the feedback exercise suggested tightening the rules on subletting of public housing by permanent residents and providing more help for the elderly who are still servicing HDB loans.

Comments on Yahoo! Singapore’s Facebook post pertaining wishes for the budget range from assisting the poor much more in food and transportation to cope with rising living costs, to reducing defence budgets and ministerial pay packages. A frequently-raised concern was also the price of housing.

Costs and kids

Singaporeans interviewed by Yahoo! Singapore talked about their worries over rising costs and wage levels that have changed little over the year.

41-year-old sales manager Amylia A. has moved home twice and has seen cash-on-valuation (COV) prices for HDB flats rise dramatically. After selling her first flat, she only had to pay $5,000 upfront to purchase her first resale flat in 2000, but in 2010, she had to fork out a total sum of some $88,000 upfront to buy her second resale flat. When asked if she wants to move again, she said, “How to?”

“On top of the COV, you have to pay half of the loan approved under the HDB Loan Eligibility as cash up front. The reason HDB gives for this is because they want us to ask for a smaller loan. We cannot afford to fork out such sums. I have kids to feed,” said the mother of four.

Amylia calls for COV prices for resale units to be controlled and upfront cash payments to be reduced. She also hopes that she can use some of her Medisave money to offset the cost of medical treatments such as dental and skin treatment.

Rabiatul Adawiyah, 28, has been married for three years to her husband but said that the high cost and current complexities in having a baby have put the couple off procreation. She said that her salary has not caught up with inflation rises, much less overtake it.

“The both of us need to work in order to have the money to support a child. It’s one thing not to have the time to look after your child. Childcare is expensive and maids have high levies. My friends who have children told me not to get pregnant,” Rabiatul said.

Rabiatul also said that schemes introduced in the recently-revamped Marriage & Parenthood Package are “not enough”. She cited the baby bonus scheme of up to $8,000 for third and fourth births as only being a one-off measure, and the six days of childcare leave as too little a period in case the child needs extra care.

Financial security

Younger Singaporeans’ main concerns centred on the cost of education.

Constance Lim, 20, counts herself lucky that her parents are able to pay off her private degree with the University of Buffalo in the Singapore Institute of Management. The course is worth more than $65,000. However, she is worried others may not be able to afford private study if they cannot meet the cut for public universities.

“As much as possible, all the options for varying education paths should be open to everyone, financially capable or otherwise. More scholarships and bursaries should be opened for the sandwiched class. If you help them, they will help you back by contributing to the economy and society later in life,” said Lim.

For Angel Coco Chen, 20, her main worry is in getting a job after her design communications degree at LaSalle College of the Arts, to be able to settle her study loans fast and anticipate future expenses. “If they want to help students they must fund the industry. Then, our high fees and costly miscellaneous materials would be less of a gamble,” said Chen.

Businesses are hoping for more measures geared towards reducing the effects of rising costs. Speaking to Channel NewsAsia (CNA), the CEO of the Singapore Business Federation (SBF), Ho Meng Kit, said that an SBF survey within the business community revealed that “70 percent did not find (the 2012 Budget) useful”.

The Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) also said to CNA that it hopes to see measures to help companies simplify working processes and spend less per unit item. In last year’s budget, the proportion of foreign workers was cut by 5 per cent in manufacturing and service industries each.

The Budget that will be presented to the public by the finance minister is usually a government-approved one. In the process of Budget debates, parliament members are expected to question past and future expenditures.

Tharman will deliver the hour-long Budget at 3.30pm on February 25. The public will be able to view a live webcast of the announcement here. The public can also listen and view the Budget speech live while on-the-go by downloading the free SG Budget 2013 app for iPhone and Android smartphones on the App Store and Play Store, respectively.

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