“Tenth on the list of the most expensive locations in Asia to live in last year, Singapore crept up one notch this year, dislodging locations such as Guangzhou and Shenzhen” (The Rising Cost Of Living).
I read the report, “The Rising Cost Of Living” (June 15, 2010) with great apprehension and dread: it is imperative for the administration to remain cognisant of the ramifications should Singapore continue to be one of the costliest cities to live in. The rising cost of living presents an assortment of challenges to the on-the-ground Singaporeans; and these challenges would be further exacerbated if the consistently rising prices are not complemented by a corresponding increase in wage levels for workers and employees.
When the rises in wage levels are unable to keep up with spiralling levels of inflation within an economy, middle income earners – who constitute a considerable proportion of Singapore’s population – would naturally feel the squeeze as the “sandwiched” class. There are catered programmes for social support and assistance for lower-income households, while top wage earners do not experience the disproportionate wage-price increases as acutely as the middle-class. A multitude of factors – including sharp rises in basic consumer goods and necessities, significant spikes in housing prices, increasing costs of services such as healthcare and education – aggravated by the recent financial slump, has greatly troubled individuals and households. Ensuring the stability and self-reliance of the middle-class is necessary for the fiscal health of the country.
Certainly, low-income households would struggle with the continued increase in the standards of living; furthermore, the rapidly ageing population presents notable difficulties for the elderly and retired individuals. The decision to focus on increasing productivity and efficiency has been a key strategy employed by the administration; yet it is important to ascertain whether the plethora of schemes introduced has indeed produced the desired results.
However, there are genuine instances where increasing productivity or enhancing skills are not viable options, because the Singaporeans involved do not have the ability to work. Some from lower-income households might be confronted by fundamental linguistic challenges, while the older generation may be too sick, old or frail to rejoin the workforce. Beyond evaluating the current initiatives such as the Skills Programme for Upgrading and Resilience (SPUR), the relevant ministries and agencies must devise alternatives for the aforementioned cases. In the event where citizens simply cannot remain employed to draw better salaries there must be enhanced depth and flexibility in our social safety net to provide diverse options that remain workable and feasible.
Seemingly subtle increases in the prices of food, utilities and housing might seem insignificant in the grand scheme of economic development; but the consequences can be dire, such as widening income inequalities and more evident disgruntlement. Such rising prices simply cannot be ignored.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.