MSF: Min basic standard living of $1,379 a month comes from study with “small group of seniors”

A member of the public, Lam Yin Yin, wrote to ST Forum 2 weeks ago (9 Oct) highlighting the plight of Singaporean elderly serving in physically intensive jobs such as facility cleaners, dish cleaners or cardboard collectors.

“Some of these seniors appear to be frail or not in good physical shape, and some are limp or severely hunched over,” Ms Lam noted. “This occurs despite the Government having various schemes that help low-income seniors.”

Ms Lam then pointed to the recent study conducted by NUS and NTU in May, showing that the budget required to meet basic standards of living is about $1,379 a month for a single man or woman aged 65 and above (‘Study finds older singles need $1,379 per month‘, May 23).

The study, led by Assistant Professor Ng Kok Hoe from the LKY School of Public Policy at NUS and Associate Professor Teo You Yenn, head of sociology at NTU, went beyond housing, food and clothing in determining the basic standard of living. It also included opportunities to education, employment, work-life balance, healthcare, freedom to participate in social activities, and engage in one’s cultural and religious practices.

The list, said the researchers, reflected the norms and values held by Singaporeans today, which enabled a sense of belonging, respect, security and independence among Singaporeans.

With a detailed agreed-on list with the study participants, researchers worked out a budget based on price lists at stores like FairPrice, and consulted experts on the sums needed for expenses such as food and healthcare. Finally, the sum of $1,379 a month was derived (for a single person above 65), and it was strikingly similar to the actual expenditure patterns of elderly, noted the researchers.

The study also showed that it may not be sustainable for coming generations to rely on family support as a source of retirement income, while basic retirement payouts from the CPF alone may also be inadequate.

Ms Lam then went on to ask the government to enure that needy seniors would know where to get social assistance from the government. She noted that ComCare provides about $600 a month while Silver Support Scheme provides additional payout of $300 every quarter for a single person.

She wrote, “There are those who work as cleaners despite physical challenges perhaps because they are not able to cope or they do not know how to apply for the available schemes. Perhaps the authorities could research this matter more deeply. This is so that needy seniors in Singapore who are frail or in poor health may be adequately served by social assistance schemes.”

MSF: Not meaningful to compare $1,379 with ComCare and Silver Support Scheme payouts

Today (21 Oct), Director Kong Kum Peck from the ComCare and Social Support Division of Social and Family Development Ministry replied.

“The Ministry of Social and Family Development has a network of 24 Social Service Offices (SSOs) across Singapore to provide comprehensive and coordinated help,” she said. “SSOs also reach out to those we come across during our community walks who might need help. If members of the public come across seniors who may be in difficulty, we encourage them to call the ComCare hotline on 1800-222-0000.”

She also mentioned that the Government has stepped up outreach efforts to seniors.

With regard to the minimum sum of $1,379 a month to meet the basic standard of living for a single elderly, Director Kong commented that the study is based on “qualitative input from a small group of seniors, and includes discretionary expenses that may vary across seniors with different circumstances, health status and lifestyle preferences”.

In other words, Director Kong is implying that the study was based on a “small group” of people and therefore may not be significant.

“It may also not be meaningful to compare the study’s minimum income standards estimate with the ComCare Long-Term Assistance cash assistance rate and Silver Support Scheme payout,” she added.

She said that under ComCare, there are other support, such as help with medical expenses, one-off purchases such as household appliances, and referral to social and community services.

“Low-income elderly also receive support from multiple other schemes, such as GST Vouchers and rental subsidies,” she noted.