The disparate realities of the pandemic on different socio-economic classes
Covid-19 has undoubtedly changed everyone’s lives. However, lower-income families, experience a more difficult reality with the changes bringing greater financial and social consequences as opposed to higher-income families which view these changes as mere inconveniences. This article will explore the unequal experiences of the lower-income households and the higher-income households, in dealing with the pandemic.
Challenges of Low-Income Households
The pandemic has led to major financial decline and loss of jobs, which creates additional financial strains for poor families. The Department of Statistics (DOS) revealed in a report that the lower-income households bear the brunt of the economic impact of the pandemic, with some households seeing up to a 6.1% decline in income (Menon, 2021). A study by Beyond Social Services revealed that the median household income of families who are applicants of the charity’s Financial Assistance Fund (FAF) dropped by an estimated 69% (Menon, 2021). With the majority of the applicants residing in public rental housing, the crisis has more than doubled the percentage of their household income used for rental. Living conditions also present a challenge to these families. Lower-income families who face space constraints, such as Madam Jalinah Jamaludin who lives in a two-room rental flat, fear that the lack of space in her house could lead to the infection of the whole family (Sen & Meah, 2021). Her family also grapples with increased grocery expenses from having the whole family increasingly staying home during circuit breaker or home-based learning (HBL). Increasing the use of digital devices for HBL or work purposes has also significantly increased the electricity bills of low-income families.
Contrast with Higher-Income Households
While the lower-income families face real threats to the stability of their households such as financial decline, job losses, space constraints, increasing expenses, and more, higher-income households face mere inconvenience in their daily lives. As Dr Ong Qiyan, an adjunct senior research fellow at NUS Social Service Research Centre describes, lower-income households suffer from declining work performances and low emotional regulation due to space constraints at home to set up work-stations for work-from-home parents or HBL children. In contrast, higher-income families can comfortably and easily set up separate spaces and rooms for online meetings, which would not affect their performances. Associate Professor Walter Theseira of SUSS also shares how mandatory five-day medical certificates serve only as an inconvenience to higher-income individuals as opposed to lower-wage workers who would face major financial loss (Sen & Meah, 2021).
In conclusion, Covid-19 has exacerbated inequality in Singapore through the different experiences of the higher-income and lower-income households. Undoubtedly, lower-income families face a more challenging situation, as they experience issues such as major increases in expenses, and a decline in income and work performances due to space constraints. While the government and other organizations have increased the assistance to help these households, such as The Courage Fund and Temporary Relief Fund, these are short-term solutions. The focus of these measures and assistance for these households has to move beyond temporary cash assistance, and aid the families completely recovering from their financial constraints.
Food for thought:
Instead of short-term cash assistance which aims at ‘fixing’ decreases in salary, what else could be done or has been done to help families affected by the pandemic?
Aside from economic inequality, what other kinds of social class inequality have been deepened by Covid-19?
Written by Hamizah Myra Bte Mohammad Hamdan, Year 2, Global Studies Major & Sociology Minor
Menon, M. (2021, February 9). Household income from work for poor families in Singapore fell 69% last year due to Covid-19: Study. The Straits Times.
Sen, N. J., & Meah, N. (2021, August 21). The Big Read in short: Covid-19 has worsened inequality. Today Online.