Parliament: 407,000 low-wage workers received income top-ups in 2017

Workfare Income Supplement payouts totalled $650 million in 2017. The scheme helps those earning up to $2,000 a month.
Workfare Income Supplement payouts totalled $650 million in 2017. The scheme helps those earning up to $2,000 a month.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A total of 407,000 low-wage workers received Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) payouts totalling $650 million in 2017.

Among them are employees, self-employed workers and people who classify themselves under both categories.

Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad, in giving the figures in Parliament on Monday (Jan 14), said his ministry, which is reviewing the WIS scheme, wants to ensure it continues to help the targeted group of workers. The scheme helps those earning up to $2,000 a month.

"We will take into account the increases in income over the past few years and announce the results of the review when ready," he told Parliament, in his reply to Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) and Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC).

The WIS scheme tops up the incomes of workers in the bottom 20 per cent by income, with a smaller degree of support for up to the 30th income percentile. Depending on their age and income, they can receive up to $3,600 a year, in cash and Central Provident Fund contributions.

The monthly income ceiling has been raised three times since the scheme started in 2007, with the latest change introduced in 2017 when the ceiling was raised from $1,900 to $2,000.

Mr Zaqy said most workfare recipients also receive other forms of government support, such as U-Save rebates for their utilities bills, and outpatient medical subsidies under the Community Health Assist Scheme.

For example, a 65-year-old worker earning $1,200 a month would receive government transfers in the form of Workfare, Silver Support and goods and services tax vouchers - sums that add up to nearly six months' pay, or $7,000.

 
 
 
 

Three in four WIS recipients also own their own homes.

The Government also helps lower-income workers access better wages and better jobs through skills upgrading programmes, "so it's not about handouts", said Mr Zaqy.

As a result, between 2012 and 2017, real income at the 20th percentile grew faster than at the median - the midpoint in a range - before government transfers. The growth rate was 4.2 per cent a year at the 20th percentile compared with 3.4 per cent a year at the median.

Ms Rahayu asked whether the Government would consider extending WIS coverage to workers not in formal employment.

Mr Zaqy said the focus is on helping such people access formal work arrangements so they can be better protected and have more financial stability.

He added that the Government has to be careful not to unwittingly blur the difference between formal and informal work arrangements for workers, or to create an avenue for employers to have reduced or no obligations for such workers with weak bargaining power.