Tomorrow, nine in 10 adult Singaporeans will have $600 credited into their bank account as part of measures by the government to help families tide over the coronovirus pandemic.
As for the 10% who will not get their money because the government does not have their bank details, they will have to wait till the end of the month for cheques to be mailed out to them.
While a small number of people may not have provided bank account details, the simple truth is that the overwhelming majority are too poor to even have a bank account.
While banks generally do not require a minimum amount to open an account, they do charge a fall-below fee.
For example, you need a minimum balance of $500 in your POSB savings account — a requirement which effectively means that you really need $500 to open and maintain an account.
I was alerted to this anomaly earlier in the year when I heard stories of hard-up Singaporeans who could not get jobs clearing tables at hawker centres, although these jobs are aplenty. The were told that without a bank account, they could not be employed, simply because salaries are no longer paid in cash but credited into bank accounts.
The irony is not only incongruous but heart-wrenching. Too poor to land a job that most people don’t even want to consider? Too poor to get a timely payout from the government when they are the ones most in need of it?
Indeed, the pandemic exposes the poor, disadvantaged and marginalised to the greatest risks.
What has happened to our COVID-19 stricken migrant workers, living in cramped and unsanitary conditions at dormitories, is an eye-opener to some, but a disaster waiting to happen for others.
Who are the first to lose their jobs and incomes? Part-timers and those working on the front lines of hardest hit sectors like F&B and retail. Working from home is no problem for bankers and IT professionals and corporate employees who could easily go remote.
Who are the ones who can afford endless home delivery of meals, groceries, face masks, hand sanitisers, olive oils and margaritas? The ones with deep pockets who can still maintain their lifestyles regardless.
In a pandemic, the further down the ladder, the worse off you are. You have to queue often for daily necessities, you queue for anything that’s free, whether its meals, face masks or hand sanitisers, you have no choice but to take public transport, you are exposed to more risk than usual. And don’t even think about ordering anything online when you don’t even have a bank account.
And the unkindest cut of all? While bankers and lawyers and accountants who are not in dire need of money will get a $600 government payout, the poorest among us will have to wait because they can’t even afford a bank account.