Better living standards but concerns remain
Household Expenditure Survey raises issues of income inequality as living standards rise
The seven wall-mounted fans spread around Madam Haisah Kamarudin's two-room flat are next to useless on hotter days.
"I want an air-conditioner, but the cheapest I can find is about $1,000," said the 38-year-old housewife, whose husband - a building maintenance officer - is the sole breadwinner for her family of eight.
Madam Haisah's family is among the 75 per cent of households in one- and two-room flats that do not own air-conditioning systems.
But according to the latest Household Expenditure Survey carried out in 2017 and last year, and published on Wednesday last week, this percentage has shrunk from 86 per cent in the 2012/13 survey.
Meanwhile, mobile phone ownership is almost universal with 98 per cent of all households having them, including more than 90 per cent of those with lower incomes and smaller homes.
Internet subscriptions more than doubled from 22 per cent to 45 per cent for people living in one- and two-room Housing Board flats.
While this reflects an increased standard of living, it also raises concerns about whether or not such things - once considered luxuries - are now basic essentials.
Associate Professor Teo You Yenn, head of sociology at Nanyang Technological University, said ordinary Singaporeans feel that basic needs go beyond just staying alive, but also allow people to make choices, feel respected and participate as others do in social activities.
But Ms Anita Fam, president of the National Council of Social Service, noting finite resources, wondered how social service organisations can best help families in the bottom 20 per cent - the only group where expenses exceed income.
"How do you help convince families who are stretched for cash to re-prioritise their spending on essentials such as food, transport and education rather than on mobile plans and electricity bill payments for air-conditioners? That is the work at hand," she said.
MPs in wards with rental blocks, which comprise one- and two-room flats, offered other solutions.
Dr Lily Neo of Jalan Besar GRC said the results may suggest that "government schemes need another tweak".
But she added that the broad areas - housing, education and medical care - are covered and noted that the maximum annual payouts under the Workfare Income Supplement scheme, which helps lower-paid workers, will be increased by up to $400 a year from next year.
Internet access is critical for schoolchildren, Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan said.
He said he will try to help underprivileged families to stay connected, adding that the "only way" to improve their circumstances is to teach them skills relevant for evolving jobs.