Fund's got milk for needy children

South West District Mayor Low Yen Ling (in pink) and FairPrice volunteer Grace Lin helping Madam Mok Lu Yee (holding her child), 43, shop for milk powder at a FairPrice outlet yesterday.
South West District Mayor Low Yen Ling (in pink) and FairPrice volunteer Grace Lin helping Madam Mok Lu Yee (holding her child), 43, shop for milk powder at a FairPrice outlet yesterday.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Low-income families with young children will get vouchers to pay for milk powder amid rising costs.

The price of milk formula has more than doubled over the last decade. In 2004, the average price for a 900g tin of formula was $22.66. This has climbed steadily to hit $51.01 in 2014, according to the Department of Statistics.

All five community development councils (CDCs) and NTUC FairPrice Foundation have banded together to fund a $1.5 million milk scheme to support parents who may have difficulty purchasing milk powder for their children.

Mr Teo Ser Luck, Mayor of North East District and also chairman of the Mayors' Committee, said the fund is "very timely in the current economic climate... so that children are not deprived of milk which is... essential in their growing years".

Over the last two years, supermarket chain FairPrice said, milk powder prices have risen about 5 per cent. In contrast, prices of its house brand range of household essentials such as eggs, oil and rice have remained stable.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing said he did a survey of milk formula prices a year ago at FairPrice, and found that the lowest was about $30 while the higher-end ones cost over $100.

Concerned about the wide range of prices, he contacted Mr Seah Kian Peng, chief executive of FairPrice, and asked him how much people usually spend on milk powder.

"To my surprise, many families feel they need to buy the $80 can of milk powder. That is not a problem if they are convinced about its quality but I was worried. Eighty dollars is a lot of money compared with buying a $30 can. We need to help our families make good decisions," said Mr Chan.

So he challenged FairPrice to source for a good quality but affordable brand of milk powder. Mr Seah said the chain brought in Aptamil, a top brand in Europe, last year. It costs about $30 a tin after a 20 per cent discount for union members.

Under the new fund, 7,500 children from low-income families will get vouchers - $200 for children from six months to three years old and $100 for those aged four to six - to buy milk powder at FairPrice outlets and Warehouse Club.

Mr Teo could not give an indication of whether there is a growing number of families who cannot afford milk powder for their children.

However, he said he is seeing more residents in his district who need employment assistance.

When asked if ComCare - the main financial aid scheme for the needy - is sufficient in meeting the needs of low-income families, he said it is enough, and that the new milk fund is meant to supplement existing help schemes.

Two CDCs have been running their own milk powder projects, with about 400 children benefiting from the schemes since 2015.

Housewife Ng Hui Siang, 33, said her husband spends about $100 a month on milk powder for their two children. Her husband, a pump attendant, earns about $1,600 a month and is the family's sole breadwinner. Despite financial constraints, her husband makes sure their children, aged three and four, drink enough milk. Their daughter was born underweight and experienced speech delays.

She added: "The vouchers will help lighten our burden and we can use the money saved to buy other food items."

Correction note: This story has been updated for clarity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 12, 2017, with the headline 'Fund's got milk for needy children'. Print Edition | Subscribe