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Virus outbreak hitting lower-income families hard

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Budget measures aim to boost lower-income families which have seen salaries fall due to outbreak and economic slowdown

Madam Sufiyyah Ithnin's family of seven is reeling from the coronavirus outbreak and economic slowdown.

Her husband, 49, earns about $100 a day helping people move their furniture, or about $2,000 a month.

In the past few weeks since the Covid-19 infection surfaced here, the daily rated worker has seen his income fall by almost half.

Madam Sufiyyah, 37, supplements her husband's income by doing ad hoc catering jobs, which give her a few hundred dollars in profit a month.

But in the past two months, she has had no orders.

The couple have five children, aged between three weeks and 18 years, and they live in a two-room rental flat. They have no savings.

Their two oldest children work part-time at a satay stall in Lau Pa Sat, and their pay depends on how much satay they sell.

As the tourist numbers dried up at the tourist hot spot, their pay fell from between $80 to $120 a day to just $50.

She said: "This period is very pressurising for us. I hope that things go back to normal soon, or how are we going to manage financially?"

In his Budget speech on Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced various measures to help lower-income Singaporeans like Madam Sufiyyah.


These include a $100 grocery voucher for Singaporeans aged 21 and older who live in one- or two-room Housing Board flats and do not own more than one property. They will get one voucher this year and another next year.

Lower-wage Singaporeans who received the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) last year will also qualify for a new Workfare Special Payment this year.

This special cash payment is an additional 20 per cent of the total annual WIS payout the worker received last year.

Singaporeans aged 21 and older who earn up to $28,000 for the 2019 year of assessment will get a one-off $300 cash payout under the Care and Support Package.

Parents with at least one Singaporean child aged 20 and younger this year will each get another $100 in cash.

There are also rebates to defray the cost of utilities and service and conservancy bills, with larger sums going to those living in smaller flats.

Social workers welcomed the moves to help poor families.

They also noted that while many families living in HDB rental flats already get free food rations from various groups, the new grocery voucher gives them more choice to supplement their diet.

Beyond Social Services community worker Wong Pei Ling said that some of the families she works with have seen sharp pay cuts, as they work in industries badly affected by the economic slowdown.

She added: "They are not worried about Covid-19 but more worried about their finances.

"So they feel if they can only get the help (from Budget initiatives) later in the year, it doesn't solve their problems right now as they live from hand to mouth."