Household income from work for poor families in Singapore fell 69% last year due to Covid-19: Study

The study surveyed over 1,000 applicants of Beyond Social Services' Financial Assistance Fund. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - The median household income of families who sought help from local charity Beyond Social Services fell from $1,600 before the Covid-19 pandemic to $500, a study by a charity which helps people from low-income backgrounds has found.

The study, released on Tuesday (Feb 9), was conducted between April and September last year to assess the economic impact of Covid-19. It surveyed more than 1,000 applicants of Beyond's Financial Assistance Fund (FAF).

It revealed that the median household income from work dropped 69 per cent.

With a majority of the FAF applicants - 80 per cent - living in public rental housing, the study also found that rent as a percentage of their household income more than doubled due to the Covid-19 crisis, creating additional financial strain for these families.

The median per capita income (PCI) - calculated by taking total household income from work and dividing it by the number of people in the household - was $425 before the pandemic and fell to $113.

Case studies in the report included a single mother, named only as B, who worked as a wait staff in the food and beverage sector to support her three children. When her children fell sick, she had to stay home and look after them. Once, when she also fell sick and was given five days of medical leave, she was not paid.

When her company reduced work hours for all staff due to Covid-19, B had to work fewer days than before.

Her situation was made more difficult when she was sent to work at another location far away from where she lived, costing her more in transport.

She had to borrow money from her family during this period, and also fell behind on her rent, electricity and Wi-Fi payments.

The report also highlighted the plight of another case study, a 35-year-old man named as K, who lived in a household of eight people. K was a sole proprietor who started a small transport company, but business was affected by Covid-19 and disruptions in the tourism sector.

K lost more than half his income, which affected his ability to pay instalments on his van, forcing him to sell it. As his wife was pregnant, he also had to pay for her regular prenatal check-ups as his income fell.

Even after he found a new job, he was still in debt, paying off loans from running his previous business and other bills, including his mortgage.

The study's lead author Dr Stephanie Chok said: "The financial impact of Covid-19 has been devastating for many. It has been especially brutal for low-income families, who grappled not just with economic hardship but multiple forms of insecurity as everyday life was disrupted in unforeseen ways.

"Recovery efforts need to pay heed to the differential impacts of this pandemic, so that our new normal does not replicate or further exacerbate inequalities for vulnerable communities."

To alleviate the financial toll on low-income families and ensure better support for low-wage workers, the report suggested strengthening employment rights and social protection schemes for such workers, extending rent waivers for public rental flat residents and debt relief schemes.

A report released on Monday by the Department of Statistics (DOS), giving the economic impact of the pandemic, showed that the overall median household income of Singapore families fell for the first time since the global financial crisis more than a decade ago

It found that the lower-income households were the hardest hit, with those in the bottom 10 per cent seeing a 6.1 per cent real decline in income.

In contrast, the rest of the households recorded real declines of 1.4 per cent to 3.2 per cent.

Resident households - including those with no working individuals - received $6,308 per household member on average from various government schemes last year, compared with the $4,684 received in 2019.

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