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Parents with 2 children need to earn about S$5,800 to $6,400 monthly for basic standard of living: Study

SINGAPORE — A study by a team of researchers has suggested that for households to reach the incomes they need for a basic standard of living, working parents with two children aged two to 12 will need to each earn $2,906 a month.

  • A study has found that parents with two children aged two to 12 will need to each earn $2,906 a month to meet a basic standard of living
  • For a couple with two children aged seven to 18, they will need at least S$6,426 a month to meet their household’s basic needs
  • A single parent living with a young child will need at least S$3,218 a month 
  • The Ministry of Finance has criticised the study, done by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy
  • It said the findings may not be reflective of the circumstances of lower-income families

 

SINGAPORE — A study by a team of researchers has suggested that for households to reach the incomes they need for a basic standard of living, working parents with two children aged two to 12 will need to each earn $2,906 a month.

The study, titled What People Need in Singapore: A Household Budgets Study, also deduced that married couples with two children aged seven to 18 will need at least S$6,426 a month to meet their household’s basic needs. 

For a single parent with a young child aged two to six, they will need at least S$3,218 a month to meet theirs.

The study was done by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) at the National University of Singapore (NUS),

Associate Professor Teo You Yenn, part of the six-person research team, said that the study defined a basic standard of living as having food, clothing and housing but also more than just these.

The sociologist from the School of Social Sciences at Nanyang Technological University said that it is also about having opportunities for education, employment and work-life balance, as well as access to healthcare.

Dr Ng Kok Hoe, a research fellow from LKYSPP, said during an online presentation on the findings to the public that he hopes policymakers will take the findings into “serious consideration” when they are formulating policies.

However, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) said in a statement after the study’s release that the conclusions “may not be an accurate reflection” of basic needs largely due to assumptions used.

“Anyone reading the LKYSPP report should bear in mind the limitations of the approach used,” it said.

The 80-page study, which is available online at whatsenough.sg, sought to determine the household budgets required for a basic standard of living by adopting the minimum income standards approach.

This research methodology allows the researchers to speak in depth to members of the public and ask them to agree on the goods and services needed by a household, considering its size, the age of its household members and other factors.

The study, which started last year and took around 18 months to complete, involved a total of 196 participants who took part in 24 focus groups, with an average of eight persons in each group. 

About 19 per cent of the respondents had at least a secondary school education or below, while 81 per cent had gone through post-secondary studies.

In terms of housing, 18 per cent of the participants lived in rental flats, 66 per cent lived in their own government-built flat and 15 per cent lived in private property.

The researchers said in the report: “We ensured that participants were diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic background.”

Aside from Assoc Prof Teo and Dr Ng, other members of the research team included:

  • Dr Neo Yu Wei from the Social Service Research Centre with the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences in NUS

  • Dr Ad Maulod from the Centre for Ageing Research and Education in Duke-NUS Medical School 

  • Dr Stephanie Chok, an independent researcher 

  • Ms Wong Yee Lok, a research associate with LKYSPP

The researchers last collaborated together on a similar study in 2019 focusing on elders.  

It found then that a Singaporean senior citizen aged 65 and above and who was living alone needs about S$1,379 a month to meet basic standards of living. 

This amount has been updated to S$1,421 in the latest study to factor in inflation, Dr Ng said.

A chart showing the minimum income standards (MIS) budget for three household types, from What People Need in Singapore: A Household Budgets Study

Assoc Prof Teo, who also spoke at the presentation and is author of the book, This Is What Inequality Looks Like, said that when someone has a basic standard of living, it enables “a sense of belonging, respect, security and independence”. 

It gives the person choices when taking part in social activities, and the freedom to engage in one’s cultural and religious practices, she added.

GAPS IN MEETING NEEDS

Dr Ng pointed out, though, that there is a “huge wage inequality” in the labour market that could prevent a sizeable demographic from achieving this basic standard.

For instance, the national median monthly income of a Singaporean worker in 2020 was S$4,534, which exceeds what is needed for basic necessities.

Yet, the national median monthly income for cleaners, labourers and related manual workers was at around S$1,535, which is less than half of what is needed for their basic needs, Dr Ng said.

In contrast, the median earners in services and sales earned 73 per cent of what is needed for basic necessities, at around S$2,345, while managers and administrators earned more than three times, at around S$10,000.

Taking household size into account, the study found that both households types — married couples with two children or a single parent with one child — need around S$1,600 for each household member every month to meet their basic needs. 

However, compared to the income distribution in the general population, S$1,600 comes close to S$1,609, which was last year's average monthly work income per household member for the third decile group — the lower-income families — based on data from the Singapore Department of Statistics.

In other words, around 30 per cent of working households in Singapore earn less than what they require for a basic standard of living — if they are a single parent with one child aged two to six, or a couple with two children, one aged seven to 12 and the other aged 13 to 18.

"This is a substantial and concerning proportion," the researchers said.

And among their basic needs are having access to public services such as housing (rent and purchase), healthcare, education and childcare — monthly costs that the researchers said accounted for a significant proportion of any household’s budget.

It amounts to about 30 per cent of a married couple’s budget, and about 40 per cent for a single parent, Dr Ng said.

He suggested that the state could play a greater role in providing and financing these services to “lighten the burden on individual households”.

If housing, healthcare, education and childcare are removed, the monthly budgets required for a basic standard of living falls to below S$2,000 for single-parent families, and around S$4,006 for married couples with children.  

“A lot does go towards individual households paying for these basic public services,” he said.

The researchers noted that many financial assistance schemes provided by the Government are means-tested and so, there are income limits on who qualifies. Even if applicants qualify, the aid is insufficient, Dr Ng added.

SUPPORT FOR LOW-INCOME EARNERS

In its criticism of the study, MOF said that the minimum income standards methodology used is highly dependent on group dynamics and the profile of the participants.

With most participants having post-secondary education and 15 per cent living in private properties, the findings expressed may not be reflective of the circumstances of the lower-income families.

For instance, discretionary expenditure items such as private enrichment classes, jewellery, perfumes and overseas holidays were included in the estimates. 

The study did not take into account alternatives such as student care centres run by the Ministry of Education and the various self-help groups, which provide enrichment classes for individuals who need them at low cost.

On the study’s suggestion that around S$1,600 for each household member is needed a month for basic needs, MOF said that this figure is closer to what an average household spends, based on the Household Expenditure Survey 2017/18 done by the Singapore Department of Statistics.

Based on the household characteristics in 2017 and 2018, the average monthly spending for households with young children is around S$6,600 for each household and S$1,520 for each member. 

“This means that (the S$1,600 proposed by the study) is in excess of basic needs for an average household,” MOF added.

The ministry added that there are errors in certain assumptions, which under-state the amount of government subsidies and financial support received by low-income families. 

“The amounts reflected in the report are what the median earner receives, not low-income families.”

For example, a low-income household can receive up to S$80,000 under the Enhanced Housing Grant for a new flat, more than the S$15,000 received by a household with two median-income earners.

The report did offer an extra data point on the expectations and aspirations of Singaporeans, which will continue to evolve over time, MOF noted.

It added that the Government is “sensitive to these shifts and regularly reviews its scope and coverage of assistance to “ensure it is relevant and adequate”.

For instance, it doubled social spending from S$17 billion in the financial year 2010, to S$31 billion in the financial year 2019.

Announcements were also made during the National Day Rally in August to enhance the pay of low-wage workers.

Some of the recommendations announced during the rally included extending the Progressive Wage Model to more workers and sectors, and requiring firms that hire foreign workers to pay all their Singapore employees at least S$1,400 a month. 

A 'LIVING WAGE' UP FOR DISCUSSION

During the presentation on Friday, Dr Ng acknowledged and welcomed these moves by the Government, but his point was that these advancements have been slow.

Since the wage model was introduced in 2012, there had already been many calls for it to be extended to workers in more sectors. 

He said that if this had been done earlier, low-income workers would have built up income buffers before the Covid-19 pandemic started and these would have “helped to save some households’ livelihoods” 

As for the S$2,906 monthly income for a parent with two children, the researchers said that it provides a starting point and a reasonable target for considering a living wage for Singapore.

“Any living wage, since it is a single wage level that applies to all workers regardless of what households they live in, will produce household incomes that are more than what some households need, for example, the smaller households, and less than what others require, for example, the larger households or those with special needs.

"The exact assumptions and compromises that are acceptable when determining a living wage is a matter for public deliberation. For Singapore, such deliberations may eventually result in a different figure from the one presented here in the study, especially if more data on the distribution of household types become available," they added.

Related topics

income parents family living standards expenses money MOF

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