Singapore

PM says Govt will 'do its part' to alleviate cost-of-living concerns

He urges S'poreans to spend wisely while Govt ensures 'affordable' housing, healthcare, education

Singaporeans today, compared with their forefathers, have better lives, with access to world-class education, affordable and high-quality healthcare and a high rate of home ownership, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

But they still feel pressures from the cost of living, he noted in his National Day Rally speech in Mandarin, which focused largely on the issue.

Acknowledging their worries, he said: "They sense that they have to spend more, that their earnings never seem quite enough."

He gave four reasons Singaporeans feel this way, and pledged the Government will do its part to ease their concerns.

But he said people need to do their part too, urging them to adopt some lifestyle changes to ease the squeeze on wallets.

The reasons for feeling financially pressured vary, Mr Lee noted.

Young families pay attention to the costs of housing and pre-school education as they are buying their first property and planning to have children.

The sandwiched generation looking after both their children and ageing parents are concerned with healthcare and education costs.

A third reason is that the cost of living has risen on account of changing lifestyles.

Pointing to the quality of life improving with economic growth and technological progress, Mr Lee said people eat out more and vacations have become more common.

Things that were once considered luxury items or did not even exist, such as air-conditioners and mobile phones, have become daily necessities, he added.

The fourth reason is inflation, which has led to price increases.

Mr Lee highlighted four groups who may feel the pinch more: those whose wages have stagnated amid an overall rise in wages; those who fear losing their jobs as the economy transforms; those who are already jobless; and retirees who no longer have income and are living off their savings.

On the increase in the prices of utilities, Mr Lee said that while the Government has tried to keep inflation low, "we cannot completely prevent prices from increasing".

This is so especially for electricity tariffs, since Singapore generates electricity with imported natural gas, which is priced based on global oil prices.

To fix electricity tariffs would thus require costly subsidies that are unsustainable and will also end up benefiting the wealthy more since they consume more electricity, he said.

The most effective way to help low- and middle-income households with utilities bills is via U-Save rebates for families in Housing Board flats, he said.

While the cost of living is a perennial concern, the issue has gained traction recently with increases in water and electricity prices kicking in.

Mr Lee assured Singaporeans that the Government looks closely at the three major expenditure items - housing, healthcare and education - that people worry most about. "We will make sure (they) are affordable, so that Singaporeans do not have to worry about them."

He also urged Singaporeans to do their part by making small changes - "save water, save electricity, and at the same time, shop around for the best prices, and be a smart consumer".

Specifically, Mr Lee cited mobile phones, infant formula and hawker centres to give tips on how people can save on phone bills, bringing up their children and food.

He urged people to watch their data usage on their mobile phones, advised parents that expensive formula is not always the best and pledged to build more hawker centres with affordable food options that cost $3 or less.

The Government will build 13 more hawker centres in the coming years.

"While the Government will do its part to alleviate people's cost-of-living concerns, each of us also has a responsibility to 'look after our own wallets'," he said.

Singapore Politics