Ever since the paper was published in 2019, I was excited to speak with its authors about how they used quasi-experimentation to study the relationship between debt relief among low-income individuals and their psychological functioning and economic decision-making. In other words, what is the effect of debt reduction in low-income Singaporean households? With lead author Dr. Ong Qiyan, we also learn more about the concepts of scarcity and the bandwidth tax and their implications for the design of social policies and social services.
In 2019, Dr. Ng Kok Hoe was part of two important studies in Singapore. First, he led the first nationwide street count of homelessness in the country, and second, he was part of the Minimum Income Standard or MIS study, which in a participatory manner determined the household budgets necessary to meet the basic needs of ordinary Singaporeans. Starting with a discussion of his research interests in housing and income insecurity, we hear more about these two studies and the bridging of research, practice, and policy with regard to social work and social service.
While reports of food insecurity have previously featured in the media, Singapore’s first nationally representative food insecurity study documented that about 10 per cent of Singaporean households experienced food insecurity at least once in the last 12 months, and that only 22 per cent of these food-insecure households were receiving food support from an organisation. Published by the Lien Centre for Social Innovation and supported by The Food Bank Singapore, “The hunger report: An in-depth look at food insecurity in Singapore” also reports causes and consequences of food insecurity and offers recommendations.
This month, in the same week that the Department of Statistics revealed that households in the bottom 10 per cent were the group hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, with their monthly total earnings from work falling by 6.1 per cent, Beyond Social Services published its “Mind the Chasm” report.
Stories about low-income or low-wage Singaporeans who struggle to make ends meet or receive inadequate financial assistance follow familiar patterns. First, they are documented and shared without consent. The ensuing social media conversations are a mix of outrage, scepticism, and resignation. There are concurrent attempts to identify, to verify, and to follow up with the individual. The speedier the story goes viral, the government (frequently fronted by MSF) hurries to investigate and to clarify, concluding with the assurance that assistance has been or will be extended.