THE SINGLE MUM

'No money for food at end of the month'

Sasha has been married three times and has four children, three of which she brings up at home in a two-room rental flat by herself. Her current and third husband is serving time for drug offences.
Sasha has been married three times and has four children, three of which she brings up at home in a two-room rental flat by herself. Her current and third husband is serving time for drug offences. ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

It is 9pm on a Monday and Sasha (not her real name) has not only skipped dinner, but breakfast and lunch as well.

"I haven't eaten all day because there is no money for food towards the end of the month," says Sasha, who is in her 40s and a single mother of four children. She has been married three times.

"Usually, I just drink water and let the children have instant noodle or $2 packets of food," she adds, breaking into a hacking cough.

Sasha wakes at dawn each weekday to prepare her children for school, then leaves for her job as an administrative assistant. The mum and two daughters, aged seven and 14, together with a 15-year-old son, live in a two-room rental flat in Woodlands. She also has a 21-year-old son from her first marriage - the husband died in an accident- but he is estranged and lives with her mother.

Sasha is bringing up the three children singlehandedly as her current and third husband, a former warehouse packer, was jailed in 2014 for drug offences. He will be released only in 2019.

  • INCOME AND FAMILY PROFILE

  • NAME: Sasha (not her real name)

    AGE: In her 40s

    FAMILY: Lives in a two-room rental flat in Woodlands with one son, aged 15, and two daughters, 14 and seven. Her husband is in jail for drug offences and she has an estranged son, 21, who is living separately with her mother.

    JOB: Administrative assistant

    HEALTH: Family all healthy

    FORMS OF ASSISTANCE:

    • ComCare covers rental, utilities and service and conservancy charges for six months

    • Weekly tuition for the youngest child provided by Touch Community Services

    HOUSEHOLD INCOME: $1,200

    PER CAPITA INCOME: $300

    EXPENDITURE: $1,500 on food, cellphone bills, transport expenses and debts

    • Single parents are defined as a sole parent caring for dependent children. They parent alone because of various circumstances. Some are unwed mothers, while others are divorcees, widows or have separated from their partners.

    • Lone parents may also be temporarily parenting alone due to their husbands being in jail.

    • Single parents are caregivers to their children as well as the breadwinners. They bear responsibilities usually shared by two adults and so face huge time pressures and financial strain.

    • In July last year, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said that the benefits for single unwed mothers are being reviewed.

    • Unwed mothers currently are given only half of the 16 weeks of paid maternity leave that married mothers get. They must also wait until they are 35 years old to buy an HDB flat under the singles scheme.

On how she copes with day-to-day living, she says: "Thankfully, the older children are sensible and they pick up the youngest child from student care in the evenings when I am at work. They also supervise each other's homework and help with housework."

But then there is the other struggle - finances. Or lack of them. Her $1,200 pay does not cover the family's monthly $1,500 expenses on food, cellphone bills, transport and debt repayments.

The debts - about $11,000 to electronics and furniture retailer Courts - are from her second marriage. That husband, a drug addict who was in and out of jail, was physically abusive. They divorced about 10 years ago and Sasha took out a Personal Protection Order.

Sasha pays it off in $200 instalments each month. "Since 2001, I have been paying little by little but there is still $9,000 left because with the interest, the money owed keeps snowballing," she says.

She does not know how much interest she is being charged. When asked why, she replies: "They have been asking me to come to discuss this but I have no time and I am stressed enough already."

She also owes nearly $2,000 in credit card debts, but the bank has waived its interest charges.

To cope with daily expenses, she has asked her boss for pay advances for the past two years. Most of her gold jewellery has been pawned and she manages debts by borrowing from friends.

She does not turn to her parents or siblings for help because they are not on good terms.

For three months last year from September, the family received $1,000 a month from the ComCare short-term assistance scheme. Though those payouts have ended, they are on another form of ComCare help now. All rent, utility and service and conservancy charges are being covered but that ends this month.

"My neighbours have asked me to go together and renew the ComCare application but I have no leave to take and if I take time off, my pay will be cut," says Sasha.

Touch Community Services has also been providing weekly tuition to her children at home.

Sasha admits: "In the past I had depression and suicidal thoughts, and sometimes, those feelings come back. But I think about my children and of others worse off than me and I tell myself I can do it."

Smiling, she then tells The Sunday Times that the family can collect the keys to a four-room flat in Yishun by the year-end. She and her husband had booked the $350,000 flat in 2013. It is being paid for with the money from their Central Provident Fund accounts, and they have taken a housing loan.

When asked why she did not cancel the application for the new flat given her financial constraints, she says: "I don't want to waste money renting a place and the children need something long-term. There are a lot of drug addicts here.

"With the new house, we hope to start a new life. I want to give the children a good life."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 28, 2016, with the headline ''No money for food at end of the month''. Print Edition | Subscribe