During our Sunday AMK GRC walkabout, we met Mdm Tham as she was doing her rounds in the hawker centre. A petite woman, Mdm Tham was soft spoken and pleasant to communicate with. When one of the CEC members introduced himself and passed the SingFirst flyer to her, she quickly removed her heavily stained plastic glove and shook his hands with a soft smile. In the short chat, we discovered that her monthly salary is about $600 to $700 as she works part-time due to a health condition. Mdm Tham lives with her only son, a technician who draws a gross pay of $3000 before CPF deduction.
Her monthly wages pays the rent of $700 for a room that she shares with her son. She has no other income and relies on her son for other expenses.
When we asked if she has approached her Member of Parliament for assistance to improve their standard of living or for a better paying job, her answer was “Do you think he can help me?” She was instead thankful to have a prudent and filial son who worries over her health and well-being.
We enquired further about her son’s personal life and discovered that he is still single at the age of 40. Her son’s reason for remaining single was that his take home pay of about $2500 is barely enough for their regular expenses, let alone dating or starting a family.
Mdm Tham’s circumstance is not uncommon. She is one of too many elderly people we encounter daily on this crowded island, a fellow Singaporean who needs to wipe tables or clean toilets just to keep up.
From this short conversation, we know that the current government has failed many elderly Singaporeans like her:
The wage of a cleaner is the same today as 10 – 15 years ago. With the current inflation of 4% – 5%, how are low-income workers coping with the escalating cost of living?
Due to this high cost of living, her son feels that his pay is barely sufficient to cover their monthly expenses and cannot imagine dating or marriage.
If her son were to be retrenched or out of work due to unforeseen circumstances, they will not have any savings to cover their monthly expenses.
Why is the government not assisting a fellow Singaporean like Mdm Tham, yet extending helping hands to foreigners?
In the 2004 Inauguration Speech, the newly elected PM Lee made this promise:
“We are one nation together, building a future for ourselves and our people. As we prosper, all communities will progress and no one will be left behind.”
After 10 years as PM, fellow Singaporeans such as Mdm Tham seem to have been left behind.
Singapore can no longer be governed by “one policy fits all”, especially when we have now become a society sharply divided by wealth. Among the developed countries, Singapore has the unique infamy of having the highest income inequality between the rich and the poor. This has resulted in a shrinking middle class that is under tremendous pressure. Those at the lower end of the economic spectrum find it extremely difficult to move up to the middle class.
SingFirst has articulated a vision of A Fair Society that will provide fellow Singaporeans an assurance that our needs are met via strengthening of a social safety net. We want Singaporeans to worry less about expenditure on healthcare, education and housing.
With a strong social safety net, we believe this will create an Esteemed People where Singaporeans do not have to fear falling into insecurity, despair and indignity. One basic element will be an old age pension provided by the government for retirees. This is given on top of the current self-funded individual CPF withdrawals.
Singapore has the means and the responsibility to reinvent herself and re-envision Singaporeans into a generation of people with grace, self-assurance and dignity.
We want Mdm Tham to have less financial insecurities.
We put Singaporeans First.