Why did a Singaporean family have to downgrade HDB flat because of unemployment?

By April 11, 2017Current

TL;DR – Maybe cause they didn’t prepare enough?

I stumbled across a comment a certain Ms Allyda Tay left on a Facebook post. It’s a story of a Singaporean family and the wife, Ms Allyda, has claimed that they have had to downgrade from a 4-room HDB flat because of her husband’s unemployment.

So the story goes like this. Ms Allyda’s husband used to take home $8,000 to $10,000 a month. But he lost his job as “his duty under a building and construction company ended”.

He remained jobless for months. As a result, the family had to turn to the Social Service Office (SSO) for help. The SSO provided some assistance to the couple for three-months. Then Ms Allyda’s husband managed to get a job that pays a basic salary of $2,600 a month. SSO reviewed the family’s case and felt that the family no longer needs SSO’s assistance.

Ms Allyda felt indignant that SSO isn’t going to provide any more assistance. She said this in her comment:

“SSO managed to help for 3-month term and will review our case if we STILL need further assistance. Now you tell me how can you survive for that current 3 months working in a new job and having insufficient amount to pay your bills, farecard, etc?

The SSO officer in charge confidently said that $2600 basic salary is more than enough to pay off your bills and all that. *WTFish – I said to myself. What we are asking is for her to kindly review and help for the next few more months only. It is not as if we are taking advantage of the community help. We seriously felt like a BEGGARS to their FACE.”

I wonder why Ms Allyda felt entitled to assistance. Her husband used to take home $8,000 to $10,000 a month. That is quite high. The median monthly household income in Singapore is $7,748. That means that half the households in Singapore have income of less than $7,748 a month.

Just from her husband’s income, Ms Allyda’s family would be better off than half of the households in Singapore. If those other households can manage their expenses, why can’t Ms Allyda’s? Did they not set aside money? Was it not possible for them to have consistent savings? Ms Allyda said this in her comment:

“Even before the above-mentioned scenario, my husband used to take home $8-10k per month. Still a big sum will go the AXS machine to pay off bills *What else…”

Why did they have to spend “a big sum” to pay off bills? What sort of bills did they have? I know of families who earn a whole lot less but are still able to build up sizable savings. Because those families live within their means. They don’t drive. They eat simply, but healthily. They don’t take expensive holidays, or buy big-ticket items they don’t necessarily need. They can be happy with the simple joys of life.

So, at the risk of incurring the wrath of the trolls, I wonder out loud if the inability of Ms Allyda’s family to save money is because of poor financial management. Did they spend most of the money that they earned? Did they not have a disciplined plan to put aside money for rainy days? If they had planned properly and were disciplined in saving, wouldn’t the family have some money to tide them through the rainy days when Ms Allyda’s husband was unemployed?

Then there is the unemployment of Ms Allyda’s husband. Did they not see it coming? Did they think that he would have such a high-paying job forever? With all the news about the changing nature of work, the disruptions in the economy, the weakening of the many markets and slowing down of the economy, did it not occur to Ms Allyda’s husband to prepare for the possibility that his job might be gone? And she did say “his duty under a building and construction company ended” and it sounds like he could have seen it coming. In case you’re wondering, this is a rather young couple we’re talking about, perhaps even a little too young to have chalked up a tower of credit loans.

How could he have prepared? He could have started the job search earlier. It’s always better to look for a job while you still have a job. Or he could have looked for opportunities to improve his skills. Or picked up a different skill which would allow him to move into a different industry with brighter growth prospects.

All of those would have made him more employable and, even if he has to take a pay cut moving into a different job, it wouldn’t be so drastic or painful.

The government should definitely help Singaporeans in need. But Singaporeans need to help ourselves too. If the government starts helping everyone who has poor financial management, then there would be no end to it. Wouldn’t you rather the taxpayers’ money, our money, goes to help the ones who are really needy? After all, we’re all adults and should be responsible for our own lives and financial decisions.

Call me heartless, but Ms Allyda’s story, instead of being a criticism of the government, can be a very timely reminder for all of us. It should remind us to live within our means and have the discipline to set aside money. (Good guide here.)

More importantly, it should remind us to continually upgrade our skills so that we stay employable and are able to keep progressing in our careers or move left or right to adjacent careers.

Hello, it’s 2017. We need to wake up to the reality that we need to continually build our skills. We need to realise that no one but ourselves are responsible for ensuring that we take advantage of the opportunities provided by technological advancements rather than lose our jobs because of them.

Gary Vaynerchuk explained it the best in this video. Yes, savage, but mostly true.

Here are some key points I think we need to have seared into our minds:

“Anybody, anybody, that thinks that the President of the United States, whether it’s Barack, or Donald, or Bernie, or Hillary, is going to help them, that person is they’re a f**king loser… here’s the punchline, the market is the market. What’s the 54-year-old going to do? Adjust or lose…

And so what 55-year-old Charles has to do when he is out of a job, is get another job. Whatever that job is. So if Charles is smart and has skills, he’s teaching himself something now to be ready for three years form now.”

So instead of whining and complaining, let’s be proactive and positive. The government can best help us if we are willing to help ourselves too.


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Author CRC

Working on a startup is a scary crazy process. To destress, I write random stuff.

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Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Kyith says:

    HI CRC,

    When I read this I think it is that at a “short period”, you cannot reduce your baggage to an extend that you can make do with 8000. Likely there are much expenses. It is also unrealistic for the social workers to keep supporting you, just because your expenses are higher.

    There needs to be a balance. The right advice for them, is that they need to go for a credit counciling session. Those session can be rather enlightening to people not in debt as well.

  • Obama says:

    what if your HDB is cheaper because the actual cost of construction is 160K, what if we have invested in solar powered electricity and water desalination plant? What if there are more rooms for small business, lower rents? What if the govt is smaller and GST is lower? What if big companies invest in technology because they cant find cheap imported labour? What if there are skills labour shortage and companies need to spend more on training rather than importing skills?

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