Feb 9, 2009

$330, One Youth and a Minister

An article from TODAY:
‘It’s not for the rewards’
Just 19, this teen is no stranger to reaching out to the elderly and poor
Monday • February 9, 2009
By Alicia Wong

HE QUESTIONED if public assistance recipients were getting enough, and discovered, maybe not.

Upon learning that Singapore’s needy received $330 monthly, 19-year-old David Ang was taken aback.

“Even a meal at McDonald’s is well over $5. For food, transport, healthcare and other necessities, I couldn’t imagine that $330 was enough,” he told Today.

So he rounded up his friends, and with grassroots leaders, surveyed nearly 100 needy in Tanjong Pagar GRC over two weekends last November and December.

Struggling with the language barrier, they worked in pairs to conduct the survey.

It turned out that every month, those polled spent all of the $330 and any other money they got. On average, a third of their money went to food alone.

“Some had lost their families, and others their jobs. Some just never settled down and somehow, life landed them in this situation,” said David.

“There is no easy answer on how to help them, but we have to try, regardless.”

David’s initiative so impressed his Member of Parliament (MP) Sam Tan that the latter highlighted him as an example for others during Parliament last week.
Good job, David. Unfortunately, PAP Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan probably won't agree with you.

You must recall that previously, the PA handout was only $290. This figure was reluctantly raised to $330, only after strenuous, strenuous argument in Parliament.

And in March last year, Dr Vivian had once again gone to great pains to explain to Singaporeans why $330 per month is more than enough for a needy person to live on.

Among other things, Dr Vivian said that a needy person can always try to rely on free hong baos from some charities.

The government shouldn't get too involved, because we need a government that is "lean, efficient, rational, disciplined and competent" (Dr Vivian's words).

Dr Vivian seemed to suggest that if the PAP government gave more than $330, then it would somehow become a bloated, inefficient, irrational, ill-disciplined and incompetent organisation.

How exactly that would happen - I do not know. But then again, Vivian's imagination is probably much more powerful than mine.

Dr Vivian also suggested that if we give more than $330, we might end up destroying Singaporeans' foundation of success by "eroding their work ethic and self-reliance".

So what exactly are you trying to do, David? Act seditiously? Are you trying to ruin the country or what?


Anonymous said...

To the gahmen, helping these needy more does not create jobs or stimulate economic growth, unlike job credits to companies.

Of course they don't put it this way. You folks should have figured this out for yourself.

Onlooker said...

Singapore need more David.

Anonymous said...

the only way i think $330 is "more than enough" is when we have our OWN piece of land to grow everything and anything we need to eat! those words from million dollar man are for one ear in one ear out - just one word to describe it all = BULLSHIT!

yamizi said...

Is David living in his own world? You mean you need a survey to know that $330 is not enough for the needy lot?

Life's too good isn't it?

蝴蝶思语 said...

There are a few rational reasons commonly cited for how "welfare" is adminstered:

1) Preventing crutch mentality.
It's good to respect and empower individuals to be more independent but it is also a major turn-off when the needy are placed in a position of having to "beg" the government directly or indirectly (most VWOs are government funded anyway which is why they're not called NGOs). "Begging" takes place because the process involves the needy going forward to CDC to formally submit forms, bank books, etc, and be scrutinized. To be fair, there are those who treat the applicants with due respect.

I think as Singaporeans sometimes we hold ideals too close to heart. Must we wait for people to fall off a cliff before offering a crutch? Must we wait for senior citizens to fall before giving up a seat on the MRT? Improve graciousness of citizens? It's better to start from top down.

2) Many helping hands approach.
Well, as mentioned earlier almost all hands take from the same wallet. The hands are actually not that many (for hard cash financial assistance) and they are relatively unknown to most people. Probably a survey should be done to prove this.

Since Dr. Vivian had defended the sufficiency of $330, I wonder why the ministers' wives feel a need to support charities such as MILK? (http://www.milk.org.sg/milk/peopleformilk.php)

Anonymous said...

David Vs Goliath all over again.

Economist with a Heart :)

Anonymous said...

I guess we should give David a cabinet's pay since he did better job at attending to this issue than the entire cabinet. Screw donating to faceless organisations. Why couldn't the PM's monthly contribution to charity have gone to these people instead? No, obviously the poor are poor because they are lazy and incompetent. Go way you bloody poor people. Go die elsewhere, or you'll give a bad impression to the tourists and the potential fts coming here.

Anonymous said...

Dr Vivian - we need a government that is "lean, efficient, rational, disciplined and competent"

How about some compassion?

Low EQ politicians said...

I hope Vivian realized that what he said was truly insentitive..
very hard to redeem....more so
for a bloke like him who got into parliament by the back door.

With so much unfolding, many can see that this govt is already bloated, inefficient,
incompetent and irrational....
irrespective of whether they give handouts to needy folks.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Anon 8:58 pm:

Have you ever asked yourself this question - "What is the purpose of creating jobs? What is the purpose of stimulating economic growth?".

Anonymous said...


And it is ok for PAP to play Santa Clause to MNCs and GLCs.

Job credit scheme is free for all Employers. No strings attached, no need to apply.
No need to see if your CEO is paid millions with more to spare.
Send all these extra monies from the taxpayer back to your MNC Headquarters.

Come one, come all employers. It is free.

But if you are poor and in Singapore, please show us proof that you earn not earning money, no next of kin etc etc.

Anonymous said...

Vivian said - lean efficient govt -

look at the size of their paychecks vis a vis Obama.

Lean ? Fat as a porky pig.

Anonymous said...

Why did he have to quote Macdonalds as an example?

AndrewGung said...

I dont know much but...

So how much is enough?

How many needy are there in singapore?

How is one classified as a needy who can get the 330?

How did they get the number 330? why not 320 or 325?

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, they are freely giving job credits to companies without assessing whether they need it or not. You don't see the same sort of generosity when it comes to giving money to the people.

Alan Wong said...

I suppose with the sky-high salaries which they arbitrarily DECIDED that they very much deserve them in the first place, these PAP Ministers (LKY included) seems to show that they are not very much different from our infamous man TT Durai of NKF fame.

They are just too greedy for themselves to really care about others who are dire need of help.

Remember the famous phrase as articulated by the daughter of one PAP MP "Get out of my uncaring elite face".

I just wonder if they had not invested in the funds wrongly, how many more people could have benefitted from the monthly S$330 many times over.

Fatboy Joe said...

What is the purpose of creating jobs? What is the purpose of stimulating economic growth? I think one of your previous entries could answer that question.

“The way I see it, Singapore's priority is in ensuring the country's progress and the country's survival. The citizens of Singapore are secondary.”
- Dr Oz bloke

Anonymous said...

I'm going off topic but Dr Vivian's imagination is truly unparalleled.

He once said:

“If you want to dance, some of us will fall off that bar-top. Some people will die as a result of liberalising bar-top dancing, not just because they have fallen off the bar-top. Because usually a young girl, with a short skirt, dancing on a bar-top, may attract some insults from some other men, and the boyfriend starts fighting. Some people will die. Blood will be shed for liberalising this policy.”

Anonymous said...

Have you ever asked yourself this question - "What is the purpose of creating jobs? What is the purpose of stimulating economic growth?".

Is this a rheotrical question?

Anonymous said...

Sigh. Telling them that $330 is not enough will only fall on deaf ears. Have these people in power or their family members ever eaten at a hawker centre? I guess only lesser mortals do that.

The way prices have risen at hawker centres over the past year really makes me cringe whenever I take a meal at such places. After each upgrading, rentals go up and food prices too, so some hawker centres, like the one in Ang Mo Kio central (near Courts), went through one upgrading after another in very short spells. Is there a real need to?

When upgrading was proposed at the (now defunct) Hougang Ave 3 market and food centre, hawkers were up in arms against it. So, as a consequence, they lost their livelihood when the market and food centre was demolised. Don't believe me, just ask around those who lived in the vicinity.

So, no use putting such messages across to people who have long lost touch with the ground.

Lost Citizen

Anonymous said...

Dr Vivian - we need a government that is "lean, efficient, rational, disciplined and competent".

That's why we pay million$$$ to the elites in order not to ruin the country with more than $330 handouts.

That's why we pay million$$$ to those who already have more than enough to live for a few generations but scrutinize passionately on those on the verge of dying of hunger.

jimmy said...

I would just like to see just one of the Minister or MP try to live just one month with $330 in their pocket. Just they themselves. Their families need not go through it. They can live on the salary of the Minister or MP.

Let's see if it's something they can live with month after month, year after year.

Mr Wang Says So said...

"Is this a rheotrical question?"


Eaststopper said...

Hi Mr Wang,
If we are to increase the amount of welfare to be given, there will be a cost to the society. Say if we want to increase the amount of welfare to twice the current amount, we may potentially be looking at a higher tax bill. Would Singaporeans be willing to have this higher tax bill?

Scrambled Brains said...

Well, this suggestion is actually for Dr Vivian Balakrishnan. I hope you get to read this. Please give us a figure of how much the govt is spending on the such public assistance handouts for us to have an idea why giving more money to help the poorest survive will cripple our nation/ govt.

David is not the only one who had ever raised this question. Maybe, he is the first to do a survey and the first with the right connections to have his efforts being praised in Parliament. So, I think it is time Dr Vivian Balakrishnan help us understand by showing us your statistics. How big a hole are we burning in our pockets if we were to increase allowance for these people?

I find it rather absurd to grasp the concept of not having enough from public assistance and had to rely on ad-hoc ang bows once a year. Shouldn't the ang bows be given to those who do not qualify for public assistance but are still struggling to live? Why make the poorest group collect money from all sources just to make ends meet?

Is that true efficiency? Having staff to issue monthly allowance and then some more staff to coordinate the giving of ang bows and food rations to the same group of people, is efficient? Job creation, you mean?

蝴蝶思语 said...

Should words like "lean, efficient, rational, disciplined and competent" come forth from the minister for community development, youth, and sports? His words reflect those of a COO/CEO of an MNC. Perhaps we need to pay less to the ministers so that they do not think like and work like running a profit making company.

Anonymous said...

George says:
Ask VB, if $330 is enough, can he convince us doubting Thomases by getting his accountants/experts to show the details and breakdown using various scenarios and models of expenditure? If it is enough, surely he can show the recipients HOW to use the amount to meet their needs? If not, how does he know it is enough? Not good enough that he thinks it is so.

If $330 is enough, why do VB and his cabinet colleagues require million dollar salaries? Is their talents and labour really worth that much when $330 is enough - there must be some kind of relativity in this, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Interestingly enough, a CNN reporter is currently living on food stamps and blogging about it this entire month. You can follow his blog here -


Perhaps a Singapore reporter will take on the challenge to live on $330 a month and write about it?

Anonymous Craven (AC) said...


Have you worked out how much a increase it would be to double the amount for the Singaporeans in need?

Would this doubled amount add up to even 10% of the increase in funds given to the SAF for this budget?

Do you think that these Singaporeans need it more or our bloated MINDEF needs it more?

Amused said...


For one, I will first admit that I don't know how many people are actually drawing on this $330/month assistance. Let's pick a number: 100000 (and I think this is on the *high* side).

This will result in an expenditure of approx. $400 million a year. Doubling this will take another $400 million. That is well within the $1+ billion that they gained from us with the latest GST increase (which also resulted in a $6.4+ billion surplus in 2008, in case you forgot).

Or they can just divert some money from our grossly bloated military spending, which is slated to increase by another $650 million this year.

A country that would rather spend money on weapons rather than help the people who had worked hard to build it. If you can't see this as a problem, then I guess you're already a part of it.

Mr Wang Says So said...

The number of people was around 2,700+ as of 2008.


Income-wise, they are the bottom 0.06% of the Singapore population.

99.94% of Singaporeans do not get any such assistance.

Anonymous said...

"Or they can just divert some money from our grossly bloated military spending, which is slated to increase by another $650 million this year.

A country that would rather spend money on weapons rather than help the people who had worked hard to build it."

Doesn't this sound strangely like North Korea? - IrCTP

Eaststopper said...

'99.94% of Singaporeans do not get any such assistance.'

If I understand correctly, there are other schemes in place to aid the needy. The Public Assistance Scheme is just one of them.


Scrambled Brains said...

Eaststopper, please assist by informing our minister to publish some statistics on the actual cost. Maybe a breakdown of how much was spent on the different schemes and the number of people who are benefitting from all of them. David took the initiative to do a survey. Surely our minister has no problems gathering some figures in response to an enthusiatic young boy's query.

Anonymous said...

Hi Eaststopper

Sure there are many schemes available but strangely
underutilized. Seems like needy singaporeans prefer to starve and deprive their children of a future.

yeah rite.

I think it is very unfortunate that things like switching your body (ala Gurmit Singh and Fann Wong in that Jack Neo movie) with a poor singaporean only happens in movies.

Anonymous said...

"Dr Vivian also suggested that if we give more than $330, we might end up destroying Singaporeans' foundation of success by "eroding their work ethic and self-reliance".

First the gahment erodes filial piety and social ideology by coming down hard on Chinese culture and language (tsk tsk I am not referring to the present valorization of all things Chinese but those who know their history would know what I mean);

Then the gahment emphasizes the small sized nuclear social unit which effectively undercuts the ideals of the extended family;

Further the gahment says learn from the west and ignore the values of the East (again let's not dig too deeply into history shall we in case we unearth too many skeletons).

Now the gahment says we may erode work ethic and reliance. The End of History, Singapore style?

Anonymous said...

If the disadvantaged in Singapore can really get the help they need, Seng Han Thong won't be torched. Period.

We have many assistance programmes put in place but I doubt if they are sincere. More a political show to convince naive singaporeans that there is a safety net for us.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10 Feb 2pm's suggestion for a reporter to try living on $330 and writing about it is interesting. How about getting bloggers to give this a go and write about their experience.

San said...

I read the article too. While I do agree with David to a certain extent (I mean, $330 is a little on the low side), but his example of how a "a meal at McDonald’s is well over $5" is strange. Surely we agree that McDonald's isnt really a "staple" food. It costs double (almost triple now) that of a "normal" hawker centre food.

While he started out with good intentions, he might have checked the amount of subsistence the elderly and poor can obtain from other social work agencies!

My two-cents anyhow. :)

Mr Wang Says So said...

Perhaps he was trying to apply some theory derived from the Big Mac Index in economics.

What, you never heard of it? ;)

Big Mac Index

Anonymous said...

Yeah sure. Our big mac costs more but has less meat

Amused said...

Anon Feb 11 12:21

The cnn journalist's experience only focuses on food.

It is possible to live on $330 a month. If you don't count rent, utilities, transportation, and medical co-pays that is. If I am not wrong, a person on this Social Assistance Scheme would barely have $100 for food after paying off their other necessities. I would not call that "living". It's more like "surviving".

Anonymous said...

My domestic maid gets paid more...

Mr Wang Says So said...

definitely. And you also give her free food and lodging.

Anonymous said...

Macdonalds meal is 5+. Hawker 1 plate of rice+2dishes = $2, plus 1 drink = $1.20. Total = $3.20.

Not very far off.

Anonymous said...

Because they never earn tax from the $330 what! If they can charge GST, ERP, simidunnowattax on the $330, then got economic value loh.

Eh wait wait, the water, electricity, food all got GST!

moomooman said...

I read VB speech, paragraph 22, it says total receivable for 1 elderly is $450 per month and 1 mother with 2 kids is $1280 per month.

Are we arguing how much Public Assistance should give or should we look at the combination of the $ gifts and decide if this is sufficient, regardless where the money comes from?

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Wang

On the topic on compassion ... no rebuttal from you to the critics of the zen mini-star?

Anonymous said...

I have always felt that the crutch mentality was deeply ingrained into our system.

We have scholars who received free education and a hefty stipend; all without even providing a service in return. Come rain or shine, they receive a fat paycheck even for incompetence.
If that isn't a crutch, what is?

We have a government who is reluctant to help the needy, but is generous when it comes to bailing out failed banks in the name of bargain-hunting, which turns out eventually to be a huge fiasco.
If that isn't a crutch to failing banks and their moronic executives, what is?

We have politicians who can remain in office and receive million dollar salaries year after year despite embarrassing fiascos. Any lesser mortal would have been fired for less mistakes.
If that isn't a crutch, what is?

We have Ministers without Portfolios, a Senior Minister and a Minister Mentor, all of whom collect million dollar salaries each year from tax-payers' money.
Does a PM need that many million-dollar ministers in his ministry? Two deputies are not enough?
If that isn't a crutch, what is?

We have Perm Secs who can go on five weeks leave in a single go, and his ministry can continue run as though he never existed. So, why do we need such a Perm Sec then?
If that isn't a crutch, then what is?

Anonymous said...


As we have been moving away from a previous heavier corporate tax regime to a more heavier consumption tax regime which will cover all who spend, which group will be hit hardest ? Needless, the lower or no income groups.

The argument for and against welfare is academic. The ground reality which may result in unpredictable social implications may render any superior argument useless.

Why the many rescue plans that are currently taking place in a lot of places in the world, lest you are telling us that they are not 'welfare' plans in the strict sense as they involve institutions and happen to come by some other name, JCS in our case.

It is common knowledge that foreign lower-skilled and semi-skilled workers are pretty much encouraged to set foot here so as encourage "competition".

Don't you think our own citizen workers of the lower income groups are being displaced and they have a higher cost structure to meet given a more long term stringent housing, CPF obligations, etc.

Anonymous said...

I just don't understand what's the big deal with taking care of our elderly? Don't they understand this strikes at the heart of our conscience? If all else fails to convince them, let's just say in terms of nation building with soft power, they are way behind the curve. To imagine having to justify STRENOUSLY why we cannot help more is only a damning indictment of our education and value system.

They should not underestimate how wrong they are on this count!!!

ILMA said...

sometimes i really wonder why not more Singaporeans are upset when our government says things like "more than 330 $ a month worth of PA will cause an erosion of the work ethic". This is really insulting frankly. that paying 331 dollars a month to someone will make that person unwilling to work and want to relax at home.

Anonymous said...

leaving on just $330 in a single month in this ever inflating economy??? you must be kidding.

Victor said...

Could this be the reason why some people set fire to their MP?

Anonymous said...

Hmmm.. After reading the whole speech, I am actually in two minds about this.

VB does make some good points in his speech but so does a lot of the comments here.

So for you guys, what amount is the right amount? I am sure all of us agree that if we were to provide too much, then it would cause Singaporeans who are close to poverty to declare poverty or "become poor" to gain these benefits.

So if $330 is not enough, how much is? $500, $1000?

Someone mentioned that this amount is more of to survive rather than to live. I agree totally on that point but I also feel that I guess the aim is to ensure that there is food on the table and the basic necessities are met while they pursue their means of income.

But for the ederly, I am all for them to receive the aid they need since they would not have the necessary tools to continue generating income. But for the poor who are stil capable of generating income, I feel we should not be overboard in our help lest it will instill a laid back and wait for help attitude.

Anonymous said...

I'm an American who was very impressed with the combination of kindness and efficiency that I experienced on my visit to Singapore. It really seemed to me like your country was doing an incredible balancing act, and succeeding where so many other societies are failing. One of the successes you should be proud of as a nation is a welfare system that doesn't reward social pathology. Of course $330/mo is not enough to cover all expenses but you have subsidized medical care, transportation, education, and housin. Any Singaporean has had a lifetime of all those of other subsidies to help them save for bad times, and I think you really have to ask why people find themselves in poverty and whether more government help can fix things. It's not like the only possible choices here are 1) ignore the poor person 2) government entitlements. There is personal charity, church charity, and other organized private charity.

Maybe there is something I am not understanding here, because I don't understand your country. Why is the Singaporean reaction to poverty "the government should pay more" and not "we should organize private relief?"

Mr Wang Says So said...

One reason is that in 2007, the government raised taxes (GST)essentially for the entire population, saying that one of the key uses for the money was to provide more social support for the poor.

There is a general feeling that this never really happened. The government raised the taxes and ... That was that.