Meeting basic needs

A lot more that society can do besides just footing the bill

I smiled reading Mr Desmond Wong You Sheng's letter, "Minimum Income Standards study does not give full picture" (Oct 12), because although I agreed with the gist of his letter, I somehow felt I would also agree with the researchers if they were to justify their findings.

They didn't disappoint - the article, "How study drew up what makes for basic living standard in Singapore", was published a day later.

I had also noted the Ministry of Finance's criticism that the study's conclusions were highly dependent on group dynamics and the profile of participants (Report on minimum income standards not an accurate reflection of basic needs: Finance Ministry, Oct 8).

However, I am convinced that the experienced researchers had managed inter-class and needs-versus-wants issues well, as illustrated in their Oct 13 article. I would not be surprised if any other sampling, even one provided by the Finance Ministry, yielded similar results on the Minimum Income Standards (MIS).

I believe the MIS study methodology estimated well what it would cost to achieve the average Singaporean's honest perception of his basic human needs, which admittedly must go beyond mere survival to include a sense of belonging, respect, agency and independence as justified in the article.

The question is who should foot the bill?

The researchers' question, "What will we do collectively to make sure all members of our society meet these basic needs?", is not tantamount to "How do we collectively foot the bill?", because there is a lot more that society can do than just footing the bill.

Also, the mere suggestion smacks of a crutch mentality, sense of entitlement, lack of resilience, welfarism and ultimately an overly state-dependent society.

To put it differently: If the Minimum Income Standard is equivalent to the cost of providing "basic living standards" in Singapore, it represents only what the average Singaporean needs to "keep up with the Joneses" here.

Besides, it is a very consumeristic yardstick. To use the cute bubble-tea anecdote as an illustration, a less consumerist mindset would find learning, making and enjoying home-made bubble tea with friends equally, if not more, fulfilling for their collective mental health, compared with buying it.

We need a different standard to define our minimum collective responsibility to one another in monetary terms.

Osman Sidek

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2021, with the headline 'A lot more that society can do besides just footing the bill'. Subscribe