CHALLENGES AT SG50

Measures in place to ease woes of higher living costs

A woman looking at the price of rice at a supermarket.
A woman looking at the price of rice at a supermarket.ST PHOTO: RAJ NADARAJAN

But good policies cannot alleviate the costs that come with changing lifestyle habits

Good policies are in place to help ease the burden of the rising costs of living for Singaporeans, but these cannot mitigate the costs owing to changing lifestyle habits, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

"As Singapore progresses, lifestyle habits and consumption patterns change. People, too, now have higher aspirations," he said in his Mandarin speech at the National Day Rally yesterday.

Suggesting reasons for some Singaporeans feeling the pinch, he noted that more households are using air-conditioners and other electrical appliances.

"In the past, only one or two in 10 households owned an air-conditioner. Now, it is seven or eight in 10. As they use a lot of electricity, utility bills are going up."

Another example he gave is the prevalence of smartphones. In the past, when each household owned only one phone, the monthly bill was about $7.50. "But now, everyone in a household may own a smartphone, which can result in quite a sizeable sum."

Mr Lee raised the issue of growing costs of living as it was a concern of a listener of a Chinese radio talk show that the Prime Minister had participated in.

He said the Government has in place measures that alleviate the costs of basic necessities such as food, transport, healthcare and housing.

Businesses are encouraged to keep the costs of daily necessities and groceries affordable.

Citing the FairPrice chain of supermarkets, he said it sells as many as 30 brands of rice, of which 10 are house brands.

Offering consumers choices - including house brands of good quality - is a good way to help people cut their expenses, he said.

With many eating out often, he said the Government is not only building more hawker centres, but also adopting different operating models to keep costs affordable.

Some will be managed by cooperatives or social enterprises, he said, citing the new centre at Ci Yuan Community Club in Hougang Avenue 4, which has seen long queues.

Its stalls sell at least two food items at $2.80 or less. And of the 40 cooked food stalls, 10 operate round the clock.

Another 19 hawker centres will be built in the next 12 years, adding as many as 800 stalls.

In transport, Mr Lee noted the 1.6 million commuters who qualify for concession cards. They include polytechnic students who got on the scheme last year.

To celebrate SG50, the Government is giving people aged 60 and older $50 for public transport.

But he noted that pay rises have outpaced transport fare increases in the past 10 years. "So, objectively speaking, this burden has not increased for the majority of commuters."

In healthcare, measures such as the Pioneer Generation Package and MediShield Life are being rolled out to help reduce costs.

The Pioneer Generation Card has helped the elderly save money, from "tens of dollars to see a doctor in the past, to a few dollars now". Some trips to the dentist are also free.

"Some have yet to use the card, but because they have it, they have peace of mind," he said.

Meanwhile, housing prices have stabilised in recent years owing to cooling measures and an increased supply of homes.

"More grants and subsidies have also enabled almost every family to own a Housing Board flat," said PM Lee, adding that schemes are to be introduced to let households earning below $1,000 own a flat .

"These examples show the Government has rolled out measures and policies to reduce the burden on citizens," he said. "But these only solve half the problem."

It is reasonable for people to want better and more comfortable lives, PM Lee said, but they must accept that this will inevitably result in higher expenses.

"Not all cost factors can be resolved through good policies," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2015, with the headline 'Measures in place to ease woes of higher living costs'. Print Edition | Subscribe