Workers facing setbacks: Help with transport, education

A health setback can spell the difference between financial stability and struggle, as Madam Siti Ashikin Hussin found out when her husband suffered a slipped disc.

Former civil servant Iskandar Safi’i, 43, took a turn for the worse in January 2011, and had to undergo surgery. He stopped working in 2012.

“Before then, we were doing all right with our finances, but this turned things upside down,” says Madam Ashikin, 41. Mr Iskandar had earned about $2,700 a month, a comfortable salary to support his then-homemaker wife and daughter. But after he resigned, they had no income for seven months. They fell behind on paying bills, with the amount once snowballing to $6,000.

Madam Ashikin, who had not worked for about 10 years, eventually found a job as an administrative worker with a basic salary of $900. A year in, her pay is now just over $1,000.

They live in a three-room HDB flat in Tampines.

Madam Ashikin says: “Transport is a big cost. The express bus from my house to work in Tanjong Pagar is $2 for a single trip. That’s $4 a day. I bring lunch every day so I can save.” She is eligible for recently announced transport concessions for low-wage workers.

She hopes the Budget will give more transport grants to those in need. The family had received help from the North East Community Development Council and Islamic Religious Council of Singapore.

She says the cost of educating her daughter Puteri, in Primary 5, is a worry. “The financial assistance scheme at school covers only her uniform, textbooks and meal vouchers. We don’t have much to buy more books for her, and she is not doing so well in mathematics and science. I hope she can get more educational grants to help her do better... I want her to study to a high level.”

A big concern is paying for their three-year-old flat – Mr Iskandar’s Central Provident Fund savings are being depleted.

Senior social worker Wang Kim Meng says he has seen many cases of middle-income families falling into a lower-income group due to events beyond their control.

“The problems in housing, in the cases that we see, come up when a turn of events forces a single-income family to lose employment,” he says.

Madam Ashikin says: “We accept whatever has happened and we are just trying our best to cope with it.”

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