Lower-income families: Help with cost of living

Crane operator Steven Kok earns about $3,000 a month including overtime - but even so, the sole breadwinner is feeling the pinch of higher costs of living. Though not a low-wage worker, he still struggles to support his family of five.

His wife, who is a Vietnamese citizen on a long-term visit pass, stays at home to take care of their three children aged seven, three and two.

The 28-year-old says: "I got my basic pay of $1,500 just a few days ago, but now I only have about $300 left." He gets the rest of his pay later in the month.

"It all goes on bills, school fees, milk powder, diapers. It's very stressful."

The family rents a room in Jurong, which costs about $700 a month including utilities, as they are waiting for their Build-To-Order flat to be ready.

Families like Mr Kok's can feel stretched when they do not qualify for government grants for low-wage workers or low-income families, but still grapple with high costs of living, MPs tell Insight.

Mr Kok would not be considered a low-wage worker as he earns roughly the median monthly salary of $3,000, excluding employer Central Provident Fund contributions.

Under the Workfare Income Supplement, the government top-up of pay for low-wage workers is capped at an income of $1,900.

Anyone earning above this, like Mr Kok, would also not qualify for the low-wage worker transport fare discount which was announced on Thursday.

But his family's monthly income is just under half of the $7,570 median monthly household income from work, according to the latest 2012 official statistics.

"For the mainstream group with children in schools, the issue is mostly the cost of living, especially in single-income households," said Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad.

What would help are subsidies for transport and school fees, Mr Kok says. He spends about $150 a month on transport - he has to take taxis sometimes when he ends work past midnight.

In situations like this, education grants and aid "could be given, not based on per capita income but the situation of the family in deciding whether they can get help", says Reach Family Service Centre senior social worker Wang Kim Meng.

This article was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 18, 2014