A needy family living in a rental flat at Marine Terrace has been getting by with just $500 a month, forcing them to live without electricity and a trickle of water for months.
The family struggles with paying its electrical and utilities bills, so the authorities have installed a PayU meter, which is used to control the electrical usage of poorer families. They confided with activists that there are periods where they live on without any electricity in the house as they have no money to pay for the usage. At one point of time, they even used candlelight at night for close to a month.
The family also pays between $50 to $300 each depending on the combined income of the family members.
Activist Gilbert Goh wrote: "I met up with the wife whose four kids are at home with one taking the crucial PSLE this year. One other boy will join the schooling troll next year and the last one is a young toddler of four years old.
"The husband later join us and says he has kidney pain after falling from a gondola cleaning job many years ago but strangely he refuses any medical treatment procedure even though many are keen to foot for the expenses.
"He told me he fears knowing the truth if anything is wrong with his kidney though he cycles regularly to improve his health condition. He can only make do with a part-time cleaner job paying $500/month so naturally alot of the bills go unpaid for months…"
As a result of being unable to pay for their utilities bills, PUB has reduced their water flow tap for 8 months since December last year. They rinse their bodies only after collecting the water in big pails.
Being behind their rental payments for the past 2 months, the family's greatest fear is when HDB will come knocking on their door to chase them out because they cannot pay their rent. Their rental is $160 a month.
Gilbert added: "They told me that once they received the GST $300 credit recently, the first thing they paid is the HDB rental default followed by repayment to some loans from friends. The $300 GST credit each of them received was used up within a flash due to the huge amount of backlog bills they have to repay. In fact, the meagre $500 monthly salary is usually used up within a week or sometimes less as truly its not alot of money for a family of eight to spend on."
Shockingly, the family's school going children even have to walk all the way to their school in Tanjong Katong, which means waking up at 5AM to start the 1 hour journey to school everyday in the dark. Originally, the father would ferry his children to school on his bicycle but 3 children would not be able to fit on the small bicycle, so he ferries them in 2 trips.
The school bus costs $85/month and sending the three kids via this channel is simply not an option. Fortunately, another school-going child studies in a nearby school within a short walking distance.
Sometimes, due to the tiring long walking distance, they will simply skip school altogether for the day – this happens almost weekly.
Although the school has investigated the family's unfortunate circumstances, only 1 out of 3 of the children receives the school's pocket fund of $50 per month. The children often go without any food during recess.
The family's predicament reminded activists of a quote written by a Hong Lim park protester: “Our country is so rich but the people are very poor”.