Review Workfare cover for low-income casual workers

We refer to the letter by the Ministry of Manpower (Workfare and other support measures have uplifted low-wage workers; Dec 18).

Workfare has indeed been helpful in providing additional income for lower-income workers but it leaves out two major groups of low-wage workers: Workers in the informal sector and workers below 35, with limited education.

We urge the Government to review Workfare to ensure a broader coverage of all low-wage workers.

We recently interviewed 47 low-income mothers on the barriers they faced in accessing paid work. Many were in informal work, that is, irregular or ad hoc, with no Central Provident Fund or benefits. For example, one makes bags at home while another does housekeeping work whenever she gets a call from her friend to do so.

They were not able to apply for part-or full-time employment because of their caregiving responsibilities, and had little family support.

Although individuals who perform casual labour - like many of our respondents - could technically register themselves as self-employed persons on the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore website, file tax returns and be eligible for Workfare, they do not do so because many are unaware of this option and their income is so low and sporadic that they do not identify themselves as self-employed persons, and are not accustomed to filing tax returns and often do not keep records of the desultory sums they earn.

Workfare requires them to make annual Medisave contributions, which exceeds the cash payout they will obtain from Workfare.

The Government should review how it can make Workfare work better for low-income persons who are not in formal employment.

Furthermore, most of our respondents were second-generation poor, who stopped their education young to support their family. Their income started low and generally did not rise above $2,500. When they started their own family, many had to drop out of formal employment.

To help low-income families break the poverty cycle, we recommend that the Workfare age requirement be changed to the age at which they first started working so that the wage supplement can start helping them build savings from a younger age.

Chong Ning Qian (Ms)

Research Executive

Association of Women for Action and Research

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2018, with the headline 'Review Workfare cover for low-income casual workers'. Print Edition | Subscribe