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Covid-19 led to sharp fall in household income among applicants for assistance: Study by welfare group

SINGAPORE — A study that examined the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on low-income families found that the median household income among applicants for a financial assistance scheme fell by 69 per cent.

Covid-19 led to sharp fall in household income among applicants for assistance: Study by welfare group

Welfare organisation Beyond Social Services found that low-income workers who applied to it for financial assistance had suffered steep falls in household income due to the Covid-19 crisis.

  • The median household income among applicants of a Covid-19 financial aid scheme saw a 69 per cent drop after the pandemic
  • The median income per capita also saw a 74 per cent decline
  • Beyond Social Services studied some 1,200 applicants last year to find out the economic impact of the crisis on low-income families


SINGAPORE — A study that examined the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on low-income families found that the median household income among applicants for a financial assistance scheme fell by 69 per cent.

The median income per capita — calculated by taking total household income from work and dividing it by the number of people living in the household — saw an even steeper 74 per cent decline.

These findings were released on Tuesday (Feb 9) by welfare organisation Beyond Social Services, which studied some 1,200 applicants to its Covid-19 family assistance fund launched in March last year.

The study collected data on employment, household incomes and household sizes of applicants between April and September.

It found that the median household income among applicants, who are mostly engaged in “low-paid and precarious forms of work” such as cleaners, food stall assistants and delivery riders, fell from S$1,600 to S$500 between April and September.

The median income per capita fell from S$425 to S$113 in the same period.

In all, 35 per cent of applicants saw their household income drop to zero by September.

These findings follow the Key Household Income Trends report released by the Department of Statistics on Monday, which found that households in the bottom 10 per cent saw their average monthly income per member shrink by S$37 last year — or 6.1 per cent of their total earnings from work.

The study noted that a majority, or 80 per cent, of the applicants lived in public rental housing and pay rents ranging from S$50 to S$800.

The percentage of their household income that goes into rent also more than doubled between April to September — from 7 per cent to 19 per cent.

Furthermore, more than half of them, or 54 per cent, were already struggling with arrears in rent, mortgages, utilities and service and conservancy charges, among other things.

Dr Stephanie Chok, the lead author of the study, said that while the financial impact of Covid-19 has been devastating for many, it has been “especially brutal” for low-income families, who grappled not just with economic hardship but multiple forms of insecurity.

These forms of insecurity include job, food, housing and health.

One of them was L, a mother of two children below the age of 18, and a primary caregiver for her elderly mother, who suffered from cancer and lived in another household.

L, who lost her job as a cleaner when the office where she worked had to close during the partial lockdown in April last year, could not take casual jobs during that period since schools and student care centres were closed and she had to be around to care for her children.

Having enough to pay for food was a constant worry for L. Food prices for some essentials increased and consumption went up as her children were stuck at home and constantly snacking.

Similarly, M, who has seen a dip in his monthly income as a food delivery rider — from S$1,100 to S$300 — is the sole breadwinner of his family of five. His wife was unable to work due to health reasons.

M said that the family would eat only rice and eggs, rarely vegetables, and he would drink water to keep himself full.

Their names have been redacted for privacy reasons.

The Government has implemented several budgetary measures to cushion the fallout from Covid-19, but the study noted that applicants find it difficult to determine clearly how much help they did or did not receive and under which scheme and programme when asked if they received or applied for social assistance.

“The situation has been relatively dynamic, with four new (national budgets) rolled out in a space of four months. Many applicants were confused by the different schemes announced and could not name them accurately, particularly in the earlier months,” the study's authors said.

They added that some were clearer about the schemes but were waiting for confirmation on whether or not their application was successful or waiting for news on whether their assistance would be renewed.


The study made three main recommendations in terms of policy direction:

  • Strengthening employment rights and social protections for low-wage workers, by creating quality jobs and increasing access to paid sick leave and paid childcare leave for workers holding non-standard forms of employment, such as part-timers or freelancers

  • Extending rental fee waivers for those living in public rental flats, in addition to the three-month rebate announced by the Housing and Development Board last October

  • Implementing debt relief programmes, as well as putting greater scrutiny on predatory credit schemes — including hire-purchase schemes — that may potentially create debt spirals

Asked what an effective debt relief programme should look like, Dr Chok pointed to a debt-matching programme run by the Methodist Welfare Services (MWS), the charity arm of the Methodist Church, which provides financial support and counselling to enable families to get out of debt faster.

“I think that’s a positive way to go but we probably need more people involved in that effort, not just one agency,” she said, adding that MWS’ model can be considered by other agencies who wish to start such programmes.

A Good Space, a co-operative that engages Singaporeans and various stakeholders to address social issues, said that it has been collecting recommendations from key changemakers at groups such as the Association of Women for Action and Research, on how they think the upcoming Budget can support the evolving needs of low-income communities.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will deliver this year’s Budget statement next Tuesday at 3pm in Parliament.

In a Facebook post, A Good Space also encouraged Singaporeans to vote on these recommendations, adding that insights from this poll will be the topic of discussion at an open virtual event with a group of changemakers, journalists and parliamentarians next Thursday. The event is co-organised by Cape, a student group focusing on civic education.

Related topics

Covid-19 income gap median income household

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