Of the four panellists gathered at the Budget 2018 forum organised by The Independent and Maruah yesterday, statistician and socio-political activist Leong Sze Hian was perhaps the most pessimistic about the upcoming budget which will be unveiled by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat on 19 Feb.
Leong, who serves as president of human rights NGO Maruah, does not expect the budget or the economic goals and approaches of the government to change much from previous years. In fact, he expects the cost of living for “ordinary, lower-income folks” to go up.
The activist pointed to the 30 per cent water price hike that was introduced in last year’s budget and argued that while the authorities have elucidated on why such a price hike is necessary, they have glaringly neglected to reveal what revenue the government gained through the price hike.
Leong revealed that last year, there was a budget surplus of $5 billion while an additional $3 billion was moved to a different fund. This is only the reported budget surplus, he added, as it does not include the cash budget surplus. Given that there is a large budget surplus every year, Leong questioned why should taxes go up each year?
How many new jobs are really going to locals?
Leong then moved on to the topic of employment in Singapore. He pointed to the National Wage Council’s recommendation that workers who earn less than $1,500 should receive an increase of $50 and revealed that only 21 per cent of workers in this category received a $50 increase while 13 per cent of low-income workers actually got their wages cut.
Of the remaining workers, some received an increase of 1-49 per cent while others did not receive an increase at all. Leong exclaimed:
“The NWC and the Government has failed to protect lower income workers! This is a shame!”
Leong also revealed that the statistics show that 120,000 full-time and part-time workers earn less than 1,000 per month while 400,000 workers earn 1,500 per month – however, this salary includes employer’s CPF contribution so the actual take home salary for low-income workers will be lower.
The statistician then elucidated on employment growth in Singapore vs employment growth of the local workforce in Singapore. He said that in 2017, there were 23,000 new jobs while there were 11,000 and 700 new jobs in 2016 and 2015 respectively.
This means that there were 37,000 new jobs between 2015 and 2017 that were filled by Singaporeans and foreigners.
Leong asked that given that there are 30,000 new Permanent Residents each year and 20,000 new citizens each year, how many of these new jobs really go to Singaporeans. He asked why the authorities do not give the statistics for this.
34 per cent of Singaporeans are in in-work poverty
Leong then introduced the concept of in-work poverty – a category that can be used to describe the condition individuals who earn less than 60 per cent of the average household income, despite being employed.
The average household income in Singapore is $12,000. A notable 34 per cent of Singaporeans earn $7,000 or less. $7,000 is roughly 60 per cent of the average household income – this means that 34 per cent of Singaporean families are in in-work poverty.
Leong cautioned that the $7,000 is inclusive of employer and employee CPF contributions, so the take-home salary for many of these families is closer to $4,000. He added:
“You have been robbed, dear Singaporeans.”
Leong concluded his comments by pointing out that healthcare collections are more than payouts each year and by pointing out that in 2017, CPF contributions exceeded withdrawals by a whopping 17 billion dollars. Leong asserted:
“It is bad enough that your money is kept. It is worse that you don’t know how much they are keeping.”