Sunday, December 02, 2007

We can barely stay afloat, say low-income folk

Singapore is in Golden Age, but Golden Age for Whom?

Definitely not for Mr Sim...

LIVING ON PUBLIC ASSISTANCE, Mr Sim Boon Choon, 68, keeps his lights switched off in his one-room flat at night and has stopped eating out for all his meals to save money. But even then, he runs out of cash before the month is up. -- ST PHOTO: WANG HUI FEN
According to Eagle2004,
The theory of Marxism considers capitalism as exploitation of the working
class i.e. proletariat, by the capitalists i.e. bourgeoisie, who control the means of production.

How does this exploitation happen? The working class, have no choice except to find work to survive, since they have no ownership of the factors of production.

The proletariat become the workers for the capitalist, slave for him & produce goods/services. Whatever they produce is the property of the capitalist, who sells them, & gets a certain amount of money in exchange.

A part of the wealth produced is used to pay the workers' salaries, & the surplus i.e extra becomes the capitalist's profit. As such, the capitalist earns money from the work of his staff (without doing any actual work himself).

Those who actually do the work, do not enjoy the rewards, & that is exploitation in teh eyes of the Marxists. They argue that capitalists make their money by exploiting the working classes.

Sounds familiar? Most of us are the mere cogs in the giant machinery of S'pore Inc.

Dec 2, 2007

We can barely stay afloat, say low-income folk

Some MPs and social workers say pleas for financial aid from poorer residents are growing louder and more frequent with the rising cost of living
By Jamie Ee Wen Wei and Nur Dianah Suhaimi

ADMINISTRATIVE assistant Noor Zeen earns $1,350 a month and has not paid her utility bills for the past four months.

Prices of everyday goods have gone up and she finds that she no longer earns enough to cover household expenses.

The 28-year-old divorcee said her monthly utility bill alone has gone up by at least $20. The breadwinner in her family, she lives in a four-room flat in Hougang with her mother, her eight-year-old son and her late aunt's two children.

Cash-strapped and with unpaid utility bills of about $600, Madam Noor asked her MP, Madam Cynthia Phua (Aljunied GRC), for financial help last week.


After the soft-spoken woman poured out her financial woes, Madam Phua put her on short-term financial assistance that will provide her with $200 for the next three months.

The economy may be buoyant, but low-wage earners such as Madam Noor have been telling MPs and social workers that they can barely stay afloat because the cost of living has been going up.

These workers say that their wages are not rising as fast as inflation.

In October, inflation rose to a 16-year high of 3.6 per cent. Two months ago, prices of food staples such as bread and noodles went up by 20 per cent. Soaring oil prices have also driven up pump prices and electricity tariffs.

Median monthly starting pay for cleaners and labourers has in fact fallen by nearly one-third, from $860 to $600, between 1996 and last year.

=>
And PAP still want to import more so-called FTs to depress their wages?!

Twelve MPs and social workers interviewed said pleas for financial help from residents are growing louder but most could not give figures.


In Jalan Besar GRC, MP Lily Neo said she sees about 60 hard-luck cases a week at her Meet-the-People sessions. In the past, she saw about 40 cases.

She said: 'Each week, I find myself busier and busier, staying longer and longer, because there are so many people asking for financial help.''

Madam Halimah Yacob, an MP for Jurong GRC, said some of the low-income residents are holding two jobs and doing overtime, yet they still ask for rations of basic items such as cooking oil and Milo because they do not earn enough to feed their families.

=> Having job and earning a living is 2 different things, ok! Not able to survive financially while doing 2 jobs and OT shows us clearly just how well our current system is working for the locals.

Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Hong Kah GRC) observed that those on financial aid schemes are showing up more often at Meet-the-People Sessions.

'They used to come once every three months. Now, some come back every couple of weeks to ask for food and utility vouchers,' he said, because their cash is running out faster.

Mr Charles Chong (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) said he was even told off by a retiree who had asked for financial aid.

The elderly man told the MP: 'I'm retired, in my 60s, have no job and living off my savings. But GST is up, food prices are up, inflation is up. The only thing that has not gone up is the banks' interest rates!'

Mr Sim Boon Choon, 68, is in the same boat as the retiree. He tries to stretch every cent of the $290 in public assistance that he receives every month.

A loaf of bread now costs 20 cents more and the price of a packet of 20 Milo sachets is up by 40 cents. Even chicken rice and kway teow soup at the hawker centre cost 50 cents more.

To save money, he has stopped eating out for all his meals. Dinner is a simple meal of bread and Milo. To save electricity, the bachelor does not switch on the lights in his one-room Telok Blangah flat.

Even then, he finds himself running out of money before the month is up. 'I'm already very thrifty but the money is still not enough,' he said in Hokkien.

In March, public welfare recipients such as Mr Sim had their monthly allowance raised from $260 to $290 to offset the impact of the GST hike and rising cost of living.

But social workers said the $30 increment is not enough, given that inflation has risen so high.

=> That is not what our Minister Vivian Balakrishnan thinks. Check out his exchange with Miss Lily Neo on Public Welfare.

Ms Grace Lee, centre director of Care Corner Family Service Centre (Toa Payoh), said the centre has been receiving more requests for the monthly free food packages of rice, instant noodles and canned food.

At least 100 packages are handed out, compared to 80 a few months back.

Over at the Care Corner Seniors Activity Centre in Toa Payoh, programme executive Lim Siew Eng said the elderly poor who show up for free daily lunches are asking for larger portions to take home for dinner. A typical lunch consists of rice, mixed vegetables and meat.

MP Cynthia Phua said she has been advising the elderly in her ward to rent out the rooms in their flats to generate income.

She said: 'A can of luncheon meat used to cost $1.30. Now it's $2.50. Not everyone can afford that, especially the elderly who are not working and depending on handouts.'

MPs said that they try not to give cash to residents seeking aid because they cannot ensure that the money is spent on food. They prefer to give food vouchers.

While utility, service and conservancy rebates, and Workfare payouts have helped, the MPs hope that the Government would come up with schemes which help those without income cope with the rising cost of living.

Pasir Ris-Punggol's Mr Chong said: 'The current schemes that we have, such as Workfare, help those who work. But for the elderly who are retired and sickly, we need to find new schemes for them.'

The Government has said that it will not keep prices artificially low by controlling price increases to help people cope with the rising cost of living. Its aim is to get the basics right - housing, jobs and affordable necessities.

It also tops up the wages of low-income workers through Workfare and gives various cash handouts and rebates. A total of 2.4 million Singaporeans are eligible for $650 million in GST credits and senior citizens' bonuses this year.

It is not just the low income who are feeling the pinch. Mayor for Central Singapore district, Mr Zainudin Nordin, said families living in four- and five-room flats are trying to downgrade to smaller flats because they cannot afford the cash portion of their mortgage.

He said: 'These families find that they need that few hundred dollars for other necessities now that prices have gone up. They can't afford to put aside any cash for housing.'

For housewife Norliza Maidin, 40, the rising cost of living could not have come at a worse time.

Her husband was retrenched from his warehouse supervisor job last year and now earns $1,500 - $500 less than his previous pay.

The couple have two sons -- aged five and one - and Madam Norliza's elderly mother lives with them in a four-room flat in Jurong.

Madam Norliza limits the family's electricity usage to $3 a day, chooses the cheapest fish and buys the cheapest groceries.

But she still finds herself with no savings at the end of the month. Sometimes, she has to borrow money from friends.

After being out of the workforce for five years, she is back in the job market because she wants to supplement her husband's income.

'I want to save for a rainy day. And buy better food for my children, such as salmon and not just selar,' she said.

With inflation expected to go up to 4.5 per cent next year, MPs such as Madam Phua think that the number of financial aid requests they are receiving is only the tip of the iceberg.

She said: 'I believe more will ask for financial help. This is just the beginning.'

jamieee@sph.com.sg

ndianah@sph.com.sg

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