High living cost, job security a worry for Singaporeans: Reach

Pedestrians crossing the road in the Central Business District (CBD). PHOTO: ST FILE

Singaporeans are concerned about the high cost of living here and worry that it may deter young people from starting families or having big families.

Job security is also on their minds amid a slower economy.

These are the findings of an annual survey by government feedback unit Reach, conducted ahead of this year's Budget announcement.

Commenting on the findings yesterday, Mr Sam Tan, Reach chairman and Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, said: "We hear Singaporeans' concerns about supporting their families, as well as employability, skills upgrading and job security."

He added that the Government had introduced various schemes during the 2016 Budget to help families and workers, and will "build on this and look into how best we can continue to assist and support Singaporeans in these different areas".

Nearly 8,000 Singaporeans took part in the survey, done mostly face to face between Dec 5 last year and Jan 13 this year, by Reach and the Ministry of Finance. Only about 4 per cent of the feedback was received through online platforms.

Respondents who cited cost-of- living concerns generally agreed that the Government was doing a lot to help, but a significant number said they hoped more can be done for parents and those hoping to start families, said Reach. They suggested several ways to do so, such as giving Central Provident Fund top-ups to a woman after childbirth, and making home ownership more achievable by reviewing flat prices and the time taken to get one.

A significant number also called for more financial assistance to low- income families and the elderly, in the form of higher utility and tax rebates, for instance. Others urged the Government not to forget the sandwiched middle class, Reach said.

On jobs, there were a variety of concerns. Workers aged 45 and above wanted more help to remain employable. "Some pointed out that they were able-bodied and still capable of working, but that there were employers who preferred to hire younger foreigners," Reach said.

Young Singaporeans were stressed about getting a job upon graduation, given the gloomy economic outlook. Some people also said there was a jobs and skills mismatch, particularly in the IT sector.

There were those who "felt that Singaporeans were just being 'choosy', and that a more realistic attitude was required; while some groused that the education system's emphasis on rote learning and the lack of technical skills were the cause of the gap", Reach said.

Many Singaporeans also commended the SkillsFuture initiative, but suggested improving the variety and quality of courses available. Some also wanted more credits from the Government, which has given each Singaporean an initial $500 credit to subsidise course fees.

Mr Tan said: "It is encouraging to see that Singaporeans are forthcoming in sharing their views, and actively participating in shaping the national Budget and policies."

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will deliver the Budget next Monday at 3.30pm.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2017, with the headline High living cost, job security a worry for Singaporeans: Reach. Subscribe