Help poor families make better food choices

Currently, Public Assistance recipients get a monthly cash allowance of between $500 and $1,450 based on their household, for daily expenses like food, utilities, transport and communications, according to figures from the Social and Family Development Ministry.

In addition, each child gets $150 a month for school-going expenses.

Part of these cash allowances should be converted to food vouchers for purchases in supermarkets, but with one strict condition: The vouchers should be used to buy only healthier food items (Soft nudge towards healthier choices, April 28).

This will help give poor families the gift of a better life and likely help save money on long-term medical care. If aid is given in cash, it is not uncommon for the money to be used in the purchase of cigarettes or alcohol.

Government funds should not be used on bad and unhealthy habits, and using vouchers instead of cash is a good way to impose some curbs.

As for the argument that junk food is all the food voucher recipients can afford, the authorities could consider raising the allotments so that food vouchers recipients can use them to buy healthier food.

The Health Promotion Board (HPB) must double its efforts in educating lower-income households about the benefits of healthier eating, and ensure that they know that food vouchers are accepted at all leading supermarkets.

Food vouchers should be spent in the most frugal way so that recipients can have a healthy diet and they can also stretch their food budget.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development must work closely with HPB on the food vouchers programme to promote healthy diets among low-income families.

The idea is to encourage more nutritious food choices. At the same time, supermarkets must do their part to stock more healthy food at affordable prices.

HPB must also develop a metric for determining eligible foods that cover a broader range of items.

Cheng Choon Fei

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2019, with the headline 'Help poor families make better food choices'. Print Edition | Subscribe