By Sharifah Norashikin S S A

(April 2012) – When the Singapore Budget 2012 was finally unveiled by the Government in February, many reacted positively to it, including myself. However, as I followed the parliamentary debates on the Budget, I began to have mixed feelings about it. Let’s begin with what I liked about the Budget.

I applaud the Government in their move to tighten the foreign labour market as well as supporting small- and medium-sized enterprises. Although it may seem overdue, I am happy to know that the Government has recognised the detriment of over-reliance on foreign talent on the economy and how it can erode the civilian’s faith and trust in the Government to secure their livelihood.

The needy, the elderly and the disabled groups’ interests are given more attention this time round, with enhanced affordability of healthcare in Singapore. With rising costs, extended life expectancies and lower fertility rates, any means to assist in footing the medical bills is greatly valued.

So what grievances do I have?

The biggest one was the Government’s shift to pump in $1.1 billion for privatised transport companies in aiding them to increase their fleet of buses. I feel that the onus should be on our transport companies to fund for themselves. The Government rationalised their move as a way to ensure that consumers will not end up absorbing costs with another fare hike, but I feel that this could be flawed.

Transport companies rake in huge profits. In coping with increased demand, bus companies should increase their bus count on their own accord. Simply put, more passengers equal more profits, so why are the people paying for them to increase their fleet (and in turn, reap more profits)? I cannot fathom the reason why we should provide for already-profitable companies with additional funding for them to garner even more returns. A chicken rice seller does not receive additional sacks of rice from the government to cope with increased demand. If ordinary local companies do not receive funding to cope with their increased demand, neither should bus companies.

This year, I am not getting any cash handouts from the Government and most of the Budget’s initiatives will not apply to me, because I belong to the middle-income group. While I am all for the government helping the elderly, the needy and the disabled, I believe more can be done for us, the forgotten class. Granted, we are young and able-bodied and earn seemingly decent incomes. However, offset this with the high (and constantly increasing) cost of living, we really are just scraping by.

While salaries have not increased much over the years, the cost of food and transport are constantly rising. Childcare fees remain expensive, even after subsidies. While I am not proposing pay cuts to childcare teachers, I wish the government would offer more subsidies for childcare. With two children in childcare, it can easily wipe out one parent’s average-sized monthly salary. Bearing this in mind, couples are less likely to have more children, for fear of not being able to cope with the exorbitant cost of bringing them up. Children are not expensive, lifestyles are. In order to live a comfortable enough life in Singapore, both parents have to go out to work. Sky-high childcare fees mean middle-income parents have to make tough choices between having one parent leave her/his job (and save on childcare fees), forgo comforts like the family car (and jostle for space on the very overcrowded and increasingly unreliable public transport) or have fewer or no children.

Lest the government is content with the abysmal fertility rates, more help for the middle-income is needed, to help us cope with our expensive Singaporean lifestyles and hopefully be spurred to have more children.

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Sharifah Norashikin S S A is a Research Associate with the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA). The opinions expressed in this article are her own.