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Cost of living a worry for many

SINGAPORE — Out of a list of 25 issues, three consistently registered as concerns among participants of a survey* on the Government’s work since the 2011 General Election: Cost of living, housing affordability and the inflow of foreigners.

Cost of living a worry for many

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SINGAPORE — Out of a list of 25 issues, three consistently registered as concerns among participants of a survey* on the Government’s work since the 2011 General Election: Cost of living, housing affordability and the inflow of foreigners.

These were the only issues that saw more than half of those polled express anxiety over, with rising expenses weighing on the minds of almost three-quarters of the 2,000 survey respondents.

The dominant sentiment was that pay increases have not kept up with rising expenses, although more than half of the respondents (57 per cent), felt that the reason people are struggling with living costs was their unrealistic ambitions on the lifestyle they wanted to lead, as well as unnecessary expenditures.

A significant proportion (71 per cent) acknowledged that things for middle-income earners and those most in need had been made easier by the Government. Still, more than eight in 10 (87 per cent) said they have had to “make financial compromises in their everyday life” in recent times as a result of the rising cost of living.

The affordability of housing remains worrying for 57 per cent of respondents, even though official data have shown prices sliding because of the ramp-up in supply and the series of property cooling measures that have been rolled out. Notably, 55 per cent of those polled agreed that the property-cooling measures have been effective in the past two years.

The inflow of foreigners was also a concern for 57 per cent of the 2,000 eligible voters who participated in the survey, driven mainly by their fear that greater numbers would strain public infrastructure (78 per cent).

(Click to enlarge)

Away from the top three areas of concerns, just under half of the respondents took issue with the state of the Certificate of Entitlement system (46 per cent) and the Government’s public accountability and transparency (44 per cent). About one-third also felt the Government could do better in creating jobs for Singaporeans.

That housing affordability and foreigner numbers figured prominently on the minds of many of those polled — despite the policy shifts that have been made to address concerns in those areas in the past four years — was because of the “negative position” the Government was starting from, political observers said.

As former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Siew Kum Hong put it: “While the foreigner inflow and housing situations have not gotten worse, they haven’t necessarily gotten much better in absolute terms either — for example, housing prices remain elevated although they have come down a bit, while the number of foreigners has not shrunk; just that the growth rate has decreased.”

Associate Professor Eugene Tan, also a former NMP, added: “Costs of living and housing affordability indicate also the overarching concern with whether economic success has been equitably shared and whether the middle-class aspirations are harder to achieve in a more unequal society. There is also the cognitive dissonance: Singaporeans see Singapore as a wealthy country but feel that they are not wealthy themselves.”

Another possible reason could be that there has not been a long enough time for perceptions to shift, while news reports of isolated units fetching high prices could have clouded perspectives, said economist Walter Theseira. “The Government has actually moved quite aggressively to address these issues — greatly expanding HDB Build-to-Order launches, continuing to issue Goods and Services Tax vouchers and relief for costs of living, and by significantly reducing foreigner inflow at all levels,” he said.

Dr Theseira added that perceptions, whether it pertains to housing prices or the number of foreigners coming to Singapore, are relative, and frequently compared against experiences from years ago.

Realistically, can much more be done in the top areas of concerns? Former NMP Eugene Tan, a law academic at Singapore Management University, doubts it: “Given where we are today and the realities of globalisation, it may not be realistic to expect foreign numbers, housing prices and cost of living to decrease significantly, but that will not stop people from having negative views.”

Agreeing, National University of Singapore political scientist Bilveer Singh said: “Overall, these issues will not go away as they are quite ingrained in the system through social media and word of mouth. ‘This is not a cheap place’ is a motherhood statement. The question would be how to explain this to the public as this country purchases everything from the world, which has been going through tumbles.”

*A face-to-face survey commissioned by MediaCorp polled 2,000 eligible voters from July 11 to Aug 6.

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