Focus on bread-and-butter issues

Several MPs raised concerns about the cost of living in Parliament yesterday. Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing responded.

Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC): What else can the Government do to help the sandwiched middle class?

Answer: For many middle-income people, their concerns will be the education of their children and, perhaps, their utility bills. Many will be taking care of their elderly parents as well.

First, we try to do as much as we can to take care of our seniors, to help middle-income households with elderly parents. Second, we want to make sure children's education remains affordable and everyone has similar opportunities to excel and fulfil their potential.

We will pay particular attention to the group with lower wage increases or stagnating wages because their industries are going through rapid transformation. This is where we will work closely with the Ministry of Manpower and NTUC to help our workers transit to new industries, acquire new skills and take on new jobs before they are displaced.

Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC): Nowadays, prices of goods sold at NTUC FairPrice supermarkets are not necessarily the cheapest. Will the minister look into this?

Answer: NTUC FairPrice has a basket of 500 items whose prices it monitors daily against those in the market. It will make sure that, on average, its 500 items will be 4 to 5 per cent less.

But that doesn't mean every item is 4 to 5 per cent below the market price... One question I have always pondered is not whether Sheng Siong or Dairy Farm is able to meet NTUC (FairPrice) prices and beat NTUC (FairPrice) prices. It is, if we didn't have social enterprises to benchmark some of these things, would the competitors still charge those prices?

Leon Perera (Non-Constituency MP): Would the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) consider measuring and publishing the Consumer Price Index based on different demographic groups... for example, young couples, parents with young children and retirees?

Answer: We have different ways of looking at the data. One dimension would be by income... Another is, for example, retirees, because they generally have either fixed or no income and they are living on their savings.

We are particularly concerned about (this group). That is why in the last five years, MTI has started monitoring this data. But it takes time to build up different demographic groups, and we will make available the data when we have them.

Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC): What will be the impact of a rise in the US Federal Reserve interest rate, especially on Singaporeans?

Answer: The direct impact is it adds to the cost of doing business and the second is it affects the relative exchange rates, which will then affect the strength of the Singdollar...

But the most important impact of any interest rate hike across the world is the impact on global business confidence.

If the trade wars and interest rate hike lead to an overall dampening of the global confidence level and people's investment, then what affects us most severely is job creation.

If we cannot continue to create good jobs for our people, all the other help schemes are secondary because, first and foremost, we must have good jobs for our people and grow our economy, and we have the means to help each other by redistributing some of the gains from this entire economic system.

Seow Bei Yi

  • Note: Exchanges edited for greater clarity.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2018, with the headline 'Focus on bread-and-butter issues'. Print Edition | Subscribe